By Alan M. Petrillo
Ccompressed air foam systems (CAFS) are not the right choice for every fire department, but for those departments using them, they become major elements in their standard operating procedures (SOPs) for extinguishing fires.
|1 W.S. Darley & Co. makes the LDMBC AutoCAFS system with up to a 1,750-gpm pump and 220-cfm air compressor.|
Troy Carothers, AutoCAFS product manger for W.S. Darley & Co., says Darley has been building CAFS since 1993, while its Odin Foam division has been building them for wildland firefighting since the early 1980s. “The LDMBC with up to a 1,750-gpm pump and 220-cubic-feet-per-minute (cfm) air compressor is our flagship CAFS model,” Carothers says. “If a department needs a bigger pump, we make the EMBC, which will handle 2,000 gallons per minute (gpm) in volume and provide 600-pounds-per-square-inch (psi) capacity in pressure.”
|2 W.S. Darley & Co.’s Odin Foam division makes the Mongoose CAFS model in both diesel- (shown) and gasoline-powered versions.|
A popular CAFS model that Darley makes for quick-attack vehicles is its midship PSMC pump, a split-shaft pump commonly mounted on a Ford chassis and capable of up to 1,500 gpm. “It’s rather compact, features a 120-cfm compressor, up to four CAFS discharges, and comes rated in 1,000-, 1,250-, and 1,500-gpm versions,” Carothers says.
Jerry Halpin, vice president of sales and marketing for CET Fire Pumps, says that CET’s CAFS models were originally designed to augment urban interface, wildland and forestry firefighting, as well as suburban structural firefighting on quick-attack units. “Where CAFS seems to be heading now is in the 40-cfm and 60-cfm units,” Halpin points out. “Our 40-cfm CAFS is a one-line unit, while the 60-cfm will handle two handlines. We also make models that are mounted on Type 1 pumpers and aerials going up to 2,000-gpm.”
|3 The EMBC CAFS model made by W.S. Darley & Co. will handle 2,000 gpm in volume and provide 600 psi in pressure. (Photos 1-3 courtesy of W.S. Darley & Co.)|
The CET 40- and 60-cfm models are CET’s most popular, Halpin says, and are predominantly gasoline-driven, using Honda, Kohler, Vanguard, and Briggs & Stratton engines. For departments choosing a diesel-powered CAFS, CET makes the 40-cfm and 60-cfm versions powered by a Kubota diesel.
Alan Smith, foam and CAFS product manager for IDEX Fire Suppression Group (maker of Hale, Godiva, and Class 1 brands), says he has seen an increase in CAFS sales during this past year, likely because Hale/Class 1 came out with a new controller that makes CAFS much easier for the operator. “CAFS has been traditionally a fairly complex system to operate, but our SmartCAFS takes the complexity out of the system,” Smith says. “You don’t have to engage the compressor and start the foam system separately, but press one preset button on the display and the system operates. Then you open the nozzle.”
|4 CET Fire Pumps makes a series of CAFS units for urban interface, structural firefighting, and wildland use, such as this 35-cfm model powered by a diesel engine.|
Smith notes the SmartCAFS display controls both air and foam systems and allows 10 different presets for mixing the air and foam. “Based on your department’s SOPs, you can set as few as two and as many as 10 presets,” he adds. “Typically, a department will have at least two presets, one for wet foam and the other for dry, but then might add presets for water only or foam only.”
Gregg Geske, director of North American sales for pumps, foam, and CAFS at Waterous, says CAFS has changed the way fires are attacked because they can be more quickly extinguished and limit the water damage. He notes that Waterous makes the Eclipse system, power-takeoff-driven (PTO) off a fire pump’s transmission and fitted with a pneumatic clutch, made in 80-, 140-, and 200-cfm versions.
|5 This 80-cfm CAFS model made by CET Fire Pumps will handle four CAFS discharges. (Photos 4-5 courtesy of CET Fire Pumps.)|
Waterous also makes the OneStep CAFSystem, a controller area network (CAN) controlled system with a touch screen for ease of use. “OneStep brings the water pressure down to match the air pressure,” Geske says, “which allows us to run pumps at higher pressures and which traditional CAFS don’t allow. It’s easy to operate, has preset wet and dry settings, and allows for three CAFS-capable discharges.”
Tim Rowe, co-owner of Rowe CAFS, says his company’s system isn’t limited in the range of air to water balance. “Our air pressure remains constant, and the pump pressure fluctuates up or down to make high-quality compressed-air foam with a smaller bubble structure prior to discharge,” Rowe says. “That way we eliminate the scrubbing of the air and foam in the hoseline.”
|6 This IDEX Fire Suppression Group unit made by Hale Products uses a Hale QMax-XS pump with Hale’s SmartCAFS system.|
Rowe CAFS also use a wheel mounted to a discharge valve that’s wired to an FRC water gauge. “You pull the discharge lever and determine what gpm you want to flow, then the air kicks in and a light display on each discharge gives indication of proper flow,” Rowe notes. Rowe adds that fire departments typically choose his company’s 200-cfm compressor for their municipal fire trucks.
David Mahrt Sr., owner of KCAF Fire Technologies, makes the TRI-MAX self-contained CAFS. “Typical CAFS are driven by an air compressor powered by an auxiliary engine or a PTO off the truck’s engine,” Mahrt Sr. says. “Our system is simple. We put water and chemical into a pressurized container and use an auxiliary air bottle that simulates an air compressor. When you turn on the system and the air bottle, you charge the hose and you are ready to go.”
|7 The Hale SmartCAFS system is operated through this touch screen controller. (Photos 6-7 courtesy of IDEX Fire Suppression Group.)|
The smallest TRI-MAX system is 400-cfm, and the largest is 1,600-cfm, Mahrt Sr. points out. “The end result of that power is CAFS for an adequate duration of time,” he says. “TRI-MAX can put out 500 to 1,000 gallons of foam, depending on the size of the unit.”
Mahrt Sr. notes that his company replaced all of the U.S. Army’s Halon systems on flight lines between parked aircraft, predominantly helicopters, with 30-gallon TRI-MAX systems. “They are about the same footprint and size of the old Halon units but many times more powerful,” he says. “Flight line crews don’t wear turnouts, so with Halon they were back 50 feet from fires, but dry chems and Halon don’t shoot effectively at that range. We stood back 65 feet and put the fires out quickly.”
|8 IDEX Fire Suppression Group also owns the Godiva brand, which makes the Prima pump, shown here coupled with a Hale SmartCAFS system. (Photo courtesy of IDEX Fire Suppression Group.)|
Clarence Grady, application manager, fire suppression and foam systems at Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says Pierce makes the Hercules CAFS air compressor to mate with Pierce’s Husky 3 or 12 foam proportioners or a FoamPro unit from FRC. “It’s a hydraulically driven 140-cfm air compressor, although we also do straight PTO-driven 160-cfm and 200-cfm versions,” Grady says. “Those three are the majority of the CAFS we make, although we also have a 125-cfm PTO-driven model.”
Grady says use of the hydraulic-drive CAFS usually is used on trucks that are complex. “Usually we set it up on top of the rig instead of making it part of the pump house,” he notes. “We can get a generator and CAFS system onto one PTO for a very small footprint.” He adds that Pierce has tool outlets on all of its CAFS compressors. “It’s a one-inch outlet with a valve, and if you cool your compressor by air instead of water, you have the option of using air tools with the compressor in addition to having the CAFS capability.”
|9 Waterous makes the Eclipse CAFSystem, a PTO-driven unit with a pneumatic clutch made in 80-, 140-, and 200-cfm models.|
Rosenbauer offers several CAFS for use on its vehicles. It makes the CAFS Mobile that uses an air supply from compressed air bottles to mix with foam concentrate and make an active foam solution as well as Flash CAFS AR30-400 that works through a built-in pump and foam proportioning system activated by an air supply from compressed air bottles.
In addition, Rosenbauer makes Sky CAFS that makes active foam expansion using a built-in water pump, foam proportioning system, and compressed air supply through an air compressor. It also makes the Conti & Flash CAFS WR 15-60 using a built-in water pump and foam proportioning system, with a compressed air supply from a compressor for the Conti CAFS WR 15-60 and compressed air bottles for the Flash CAFS WR 15-60.
|10 The One Step CAFSystem is a slide-in unit built by Waterous.|
Smith notes that some CAFS users might have had a bad experience with early systems and admits that CAFS is more expensive than standard foam systems. “But, CAFS is a really good firefighting tool,” he says, “and by making it easier to use and less complex, we think there will be an expansion of its use among fire departments.”
|11 Firefighters from the Chanhassen (MN) Fire Department use a handline charged by a Waterous Eclipse CAFS system. (Photos 9-11 courtesy of Waterous.)|
Halpin notes that more fire departments are becoming attuned to using CAFS on structure fires, especially in more rural and suburban environments in the Midwest, Southwest, and West Coast areas of the country. “We are seeing an increased interest in CAFS from the point of view of cost and the knockdown power of the systems,” he says. “CAFS has a great knockdown ability that uses less water and has great penetration. The bubbles in the stream change the surface tension of the water so it stays on the surface of the burning material a bit longer instead of running off.”
Geske is a 25-year firefighter, former chief, and chief engineer for the Chanhassen (MN) Fire Department, which runs CAFS on two pumpers, a pumper-tanker, and a mini pumper. “The only thing we don’t use CAFS on would be a house under construction,” he notes. We use it on structure, vehicle, and dumpster fires. Typically, we get knockdown with fewer than 500 gallons of water and usually will do an exterior attack with a quick hit of CAFS, which clears up visibility inside, making it safer for firefighters.”
|12 KCAF Fire Technologies makes the TRI-MAX self-contained CAFS that mixes water and chemical into a pressurized container and uses an auxiliary air bottle that simulates an air compressor. Shown is the TMS-200-LP model.|
Jordan Whitford, a firefighter with the St. John’s (MI) Fire Department, says his department was one of the first in his area to begin using CAFS on structure fires. “CAFS gives us quicker knockdowns using much less water,” Whitford points out. “Overhaul is much better too, and there’s minimal water damage compared with using only water to extinguish the fire.”
St. John’s runs CAFS on its 2016 Spencer Manufacturing pumper-tanker carrying a Darley 1,500-gpm pump and Darley AutoCAFS system, a FoamPro foam system, and a 2,000-gallon water tank. It also has a 1,250-gpm pump, 250-gallon water tank, and Darley AutoCAFS system on its 2006 Darley Ford F-550 mini pumper.
|13 The U.S. Army’s Halon systems, deployed between parked aircraft on flight lines, were replaced by 30-gallon TRI-MAX systems of the same footprint and size as the Halon units but packing many times the knockdown power. (Photos 12-13 courtesy of KCAF Fire Technologies.)|
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.