Letters to the Editor

Issue 1 and Volume 19.


The September 2013 issue had an interesting story about compressed air foam systems (CAFS), “CAFS Units Find Homes on a Variety of Apparatus,” by Alan Petrillo. It talks about all the advantages of having a CAFS. Some points I agree with and some I don’t. The problem is there are many disadvantages that pose many safety issues. I find the fact that none were mentioned disturbing.

First, let me make clear that these are strictly my opinions and not the opinions of the fire department for which I work.

The story stated that a CAFS handline is lighter to carry and less stressful on the firefighter. This is true. The problem is that the handline kinks extremely easily-so easily that it is problematic. Every turn or door jamb in a house will kink that handline. The weight of the nozzle alone will kink the line if it’s not held straight. Sure, straight water will kink but not like a CAFS line.

The article also stated that the cooling effect is better. I disagree with this statement. The only thing that cools is water. The only thing that removes Btus is water. CAFS does a great job of smothering, but it does not have the cooling capabilities of water. If the fire goes out, that’s great. But if it’s still 1,500 degrees, we still have problems. How long are firefighters going to last attacking a basement fire with CAFS only? The fire will go out, but there won’t be much cooling.

When we first bought our CAFS engines (three of them), it was preached to us that “CAFS works great in conjunction with timely ventilation.” This is great if you’re going to ventilate. Many departments can’t because of staffing constraints. Water works great too with timely ventilation.

Another problem with CAFS is the foam itself. You spray compressed air foam all over a room, and now it’s everywhere-on your gloves, on your facemask, and all over the floor. So, now it’s on your mask, and you can’t see anything. You wipe your mask with your glove, and now it’s worse. You decide to get out of the structure and you slip and fall because the foam is all over.

Then there is the training aspect of CAFS. It is a different way of pumping. I won’t get into the details, but if you have questionable driver/operators-and let’s face it, we all do-this is a somewhat complicated system to learn.

The price of CAFS can be $30,000 or more per vehicle. This is a huge cost increase over non-CAFS pumpers. I think there is a place for CAFS at car fires, wildland fires, dumpster fires, and areas with a limited water supply. It’s also good for protecting exposures

It’s important for departments that are contemplating CAFS to know both the advantages and disadvantages.

Rob Walsh
Orland (IL) Fire Protection District