Things To Consider When Choosing Foam

New technology is playing an ever-increasing role in fireground operations. For today’s firefighter, this means more areas of increased specialization and the need to learn new skills and firefighting practices.

One area that has evolved over the past 20 years is foam application. There are wider selections of agents, hardware and foam application strategies to choose from than ever before. Also, due to the development of Class A foam technology, foam has now worked its way into everyday firefighting operations such as nuisance, wildland and structure fires. Understanding and becoming competent with foam technology presents a challenge since it is a broad subject for firefighters to absorb, understand and in which to become skilled.

Fire officers considering implementing foam technology should formulate an integration strategy and action plan. Important steps in the process include initial research and education on foam technology, equipment evaluation, specification and purchase. A key part of any plan is the development of a department-wide training and education program along with new standard operating procedures. To maximize foam technology’s positive effects, there is a lot to do. Important decisions and activities need to take place at all levels of the organization and well in advance of foam discharge on any fire.

When evaluating the installation of a foam proportioning system on a new full-size engine, there are two key topics to review during the detailed specification process.

Benefits Of Class A

First, consider the benefits of Class A foam. If the new engine’s mission is general duty, if it’s to be used for trash, automobile interior, grass, wildland/urban interface and structure firefighting, think about adding Class A foam capability as another valuable tool.

Using Class A foam to quickly extinguish ordinary combustible fire is a good practice that increases fire suppression capability and firefighter safety, and in most fire districts ordinary combustibles make up the majority of working fire responses. Class A foam makes good economic sense from the standpoint of reducing property loss and increasing firefighter safety while combating structure fire.

Electronic Direct Injection

The state-of-the-art foam system used with Class A foam concentrate today is the electronic direct-injection system. This unit siphons Class A foam concentrate from an apparatus on-board storage reservoir, typically built as an integral part of the apparatus booster tank, and injects it into piping on the discharge side of the fire pump. Foam concentrate reservoir capacities typically range from as small as 20 to as large as 40 gallons.

The advantages of an electronic direct-injection system are clear; after being turned “on,” the system requires no pump operator intervention – it is fully automatic. It continually monitors flow rate and self-adjusts to inject the proper amount of foam concentrate over a wide range of flow rates and discharge pressures. The system also prevents the fire pump, apparatus booster tank or potable hydrant water source from becoming contaminated with foam, since waterway-check valves are installed.

The typical electronic direct-injection foam proportioner can be connected to multiple fire pump discharge locations on your apparatus. With installations on new fire apparatus, we normally find that two 1-3/4-inch crosslays, a 2-1/2-inch side or rear discharge, and a front 1-3/4-inch trash line have been designated as “foam capable.” The remaining fire pump discharges are “water capable” only.

Fire departments must also consider installing two foam concentrate reservoirs on each engine – one for Class A foam concentrate, and the other for a multi-purpose Class B foam concentrate, such as a one percent and three percent alcohol resistant aqueous film forming foam (AR-AFFF).

The capability to apply a multi-purpose Class B foam concentrate such as AR-AFFF is important when tackling a gasoline spill or fire at an automobile accident or vehicle extrication scene.

Ethanol

In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made it a requirement that refineries use “oxygenates” – additives that reduce smog-forming tailpipe emissions – because they make gasoline burn more completely. In certain areas of the country, refineries chose to use ethanol, while in other areas refineries chose to use methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) as a gasoline additive.

Since about year 2001, due to ground water contamination, MTBE has been banned in most areas and has been replaced with ethanol. Of course, growth in the use of ethanol as a motor fuel has boomed over the past few years. Multi-purpose AR-AFFF is an effective suppression agent for E-85 or a 10 percent-ethanol/gasoline mix spill fire. This type of foam is multi-purpose in that it will handle both a burning normal hydrocarbon fuel (diesel, kerosene, etc.) and a polar solvent fuel (alcohol) when applied at the manufacturer’s specified application rate.

Misinformation

It should be mentioned that an electronic direct-injection foam proportioner could be retrofitted to existing apparatus. You may want to explore what it will take to retrofit a unit on your most highly active engine. It may cost less than what many department members might think.

The one recurring issue in most organizations is the need for fire administration to get all their personnel “on the same page” in regard to understanding foam technology. A typical organization has individuals with various knowledge levels. In some cases, knowledge on foam has been acquired through informal information transfer, the “whisper down the lane” approach.

This is a problem since misinformation can override facts and data. Education needs to occur on the basics of foam agents, their handling and fireground application. The training program must clear up misinformation and remove myths. A good foundation in foam application principles and practices is required for success. An effective program follows through to include hands-on foam application under controlled live fire training conditions.

When adopting new foam technology, the need to plan for and include a high-quality training and education program for all department members is essential. This cannot be overemphasized.

There are several good training manuals available on the use of foam. One that covers foam basics is “Foam Firefighting Operations 1” written by Larry Davis and myself. It is an “awareness level,” easy-to-read text that provides a foundation of solid information. It has been used by departments that are moving away from eductor and around-the-pump type Class B foam systems and into Class A/B foam agents and compressed air foam systems. It is available through Fire Protection Publications/IFSTA.

It may sound like there is a lot of training required when implementing foam in fire operations. The good news is that it can be done efficiently when planned for as part of a department’s overall training and education curriculum.

Editor’s Note: Dominic Colletti is the global foam systems product manager for Hale Products and the author of two books – “The Compressed Air Foam Systems Handbook” and “Class A Foam – Best Practice For Structure Firefighters.” Colletti is a former assistant fire chief in Royersford, Pa. and serves on the technical committee of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Fire Department Occupation Safety and Health Program. He is an instructor specializing in CAFS implementation.

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