Cantankerous Wisdom: Foam and Fire Trucks, Part 2

By Bill Adams

Cantankerous Wisdom: Foam and Fire Trucks, Part 1

At a local establishment recently, I overheard two of the brothers jawboning about their foam eductor not working at a recent car fire. Remembering a saying heard years ago, I joined the conversation asking if they “checked their kinks and balls.” That was a big mistake. One turned red in the face; the other wanted to fight. The innkeeper, overhearing everything, thought I said kinky balls. Eventually, everything was settled amicably. I bought a round, and the topic returned to foam eductors. Decades ago a brass goods representative coined the kinks and balls statement, saying kinks in the discharge hose and a stuck ball in the eductor were frequent problems when making foam. Those guys doubted it.

One of them said they should make eductors that suck foam out of the pail without worrying about plugged up balls. I said eductors don’t suck foam out of a pail—Mother Nature does. The eductor creates a vacuum and atmospheric pressure pushes the foam up the tube. The innkeeper glared at us. One firefighter had a new-fangled telephone-pad-tablet-something that can access the Internet. He did and found the instruction manual for Elkhart Brass’s bypass and inline foam eductors. Under “common problems,” it explicitly listed “ball check stuck” and “kink in hose” as two of the reasons an eductor may not draw properly. I was vindicated, and they bought the next round. That manual gives a basic review of foam eductor mechanics, how to operate them, and maintain them. Get a copy. It’s an excellent refresher—regardless of whose eductor you use. It can make old people look smart.

In speaking of old, how many firefighters can remember driving a rig when, if you missed your shift (going up or down the gears), you had to coast over to the side of the road and start all over?

Another foam discussion, over morning coffee this time, pitted the younger generation against some white hairs over using a foam attachment on automatic nozzles. In particular, the young guys said the Task Force Tips (TFT) Model FJ-H FoamJet isn’t necessary when using their H series nozzle (the original one). They started out with: it’s not needed, why waste your time, it takes too long, and it’s not necessary, blah, blah, blah. It ended up a debate of monumental proportions with the kids saying old timers live in the past and should use soap in the morning instead of just cologne. The white hairs retaliated telling the youngsters they haven’t been close enough yet to a real fire to get warm. I mentioned something about aspiration drawing air into a nozzle stream to mix with the foam and water solution that comes out of the eductor. One of them shot back saying aspirating is what old people do to keep the drool from running down their chin when they’re napping in a recliner. He had a point. It was young against old, career vs. volunteer, and foam-literate against foam-ignorant. After a while we couldn’t tell who was on which side.

Again, thank God for the Internet. One of the computer literates accessed a copy of TFT’s technical bulletin, “Using Automatic Nozzles with Foam Eductors.” It says you can use an automatic nozzle with the air introduced into the foam/water solution at the nozzle with an air aspirating device or the air can be introduced “as the foam solution shoots through the air” without the air aspirating device. Damn—it says you can have it both ways. We argued some more about sucking air. Good thing the innkeeper wasn’t here; he really would have got upset.

The bulletin also says an air-aspirating device will develop a long-lasting, uniform, and thick foam blanket with a better burn back resistance. I recall a TFT rep saying it’s better to use the FoamJet but you don’t have to. I think, but can’t really remember if, he said just the nozzle is OK for a quick knockdown but the FoamJet is better for a suppressing blanket. Why don’t they just tell you when you should use it? Oh well, if you use automatic nozzles for foam application, download a copy of TFT’s bulletin and figure it out for yourself. It’s nap time. I have to go aspirate.

BILL ADAMS is a former fire apparatus salesman and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.