Training with Foam

Today, 90% of the fires are Class A in nature, often fueled by modern synthetic materials. With flashovers occurring faster than ever, can you afford not to have faster knockdowns, use less water, fewer rekindles, reduced property damage or improved firefighter safety?  Firefighters ought to have a solid working knowledge of basic foam operations.

As you prepare for your next training event or drill night, use these eight key fundamental areas to further your department’s knowledge on foam operations.

  1. Basics of Foam – Firefighters must understand how and why foam works in order to be able to use it to its best effect. Explain how it impacts the fire tetrahedron and improves the use of water allowing you to be more effective.

  2. Foam Concentrates – There are many concentrates on the market and it is important to understand the differences between them in order to use them effectively. What are the differences between Class A and Class B foams in terms of concentrates, applications and how they operate?  Make sure your firefighters know what foams you carry as well as the foams used by neighboring departments. Be aware that mixing foams can create massive headaches.

  3. Application Rate – When using Class A foam, most firefighter know that it is typically proportioned from .1-1% and Class B foams are proportioned from 1-6%.  But do they fully understand how imperative it is to know the type of material or flammable liquids that are burning so the proper rate and application methods are used for effective extinguishment?  If it is an alcohol based product, does this Class B foam not need to be applied at 6% instead of 3%? This is important to effectively extinguish the fire and keep firefighters safe.

  4. Foam Applications Techniques – Different situations require correctly applied foam tactics and it is important to understand the techniques as well as their impact on the finished foam.  These specific techniques which include, Rain Down, Bank Down, Roll-On, and Direct application.

  5. Foam Proportioner – Firefighters must have a basic knowledge of the equipment that is in their accessible tool box.  Identify the proportioning systems you have – direct injection, around the pump, or eductors. Address the key factors to ensure they work effectively.  Some foam proportioning systems are easier to use than others.  With the right equipment, foam use is as simple as pushing one button and the system takes care of everything else.  Other electronic proportioners perform regular self-checks and indicate to the operator in plain text when equipment needs serviced or are due for regular maintenance.  

  6. Nozzles – Not all nozzles are created equal.  It is important for firefighters to understand the types of nozzles your department uses and whether or not they are compatible with your foam proportioner. Knowledge of how and why these nozzles operate will provide the best foam production and maximize your effectiveness.   

  7. Clean-up/Maintenance – Identify your department’s steps to properly ensure your system is cleaned, refilled and ready to be used again.  Remember to reinforce those items that should be checked during regularly scheduled apparatus inspections. Common things to check include key fluid levels or strainers that should to be serviced and how to properly operate the system during the inspection to keep it operating efficiently.

  8. Use it or Lose It – One of the most important concepts is to regularly use and train with the equipment.  With regular training, it ensures the equipment stays in proper condition and the use of the equipment second nature.  Encourage continuous learning about new techniques and products available that will help you be safer and more effective.

Now that you have reinforced the basics, get your hands dirty.  Take these eight key fundamentals and apply them in practice.  Begin simple. Spray foam at your fire station or local training academy and practice using your equipment and the appropriate application techniques.  Work your way up to actual scenarios with the use of live fire.  Keep in mind that some foam proportioning systems have built-in training tutorials and simulations that allow firefighters to have step-by-step guidance to using the proportioning systems without actually pumping any foam concentrate. This might be something to consider when specking your next apparatus.

If you are able to use live fire applications please make sure you follow the appropriate protocols and safety guideline for your jurisdiction. Additional consideration should be given to using training foam or other soaps/detergents to reduce the cost impact of using firefighting foam.


Recommended Training Activities

  1. Basic Foam Demonstration –Mix water and foam concentrate in a 1% foam solution in one container.   In the second container, just add water.  With an eye dropper take a drop of the water from the second container of water and dispense a drop on a piece of corrugated paper.  Do the same with the 1% foam solution.  Identify what happens.  Does the foam concentrate drop spread out further?  Does it absorb into the paper faster?    The foam concentrate solutions should do both due to the reduction in surface tension. 

  2. Foam Concentrates & Application rates – Apply water & foam concentrates with the use of water bottle on various types of small pan fires and with appropriate foam proportioning’s. You can observe the results and discuss the differences. This is a great way to show the effects of Class A foam and its inabilities to suppress vapors in Class B fires.  It is also a great way to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of AFFF or other non-alcohol resistant foams on alcohol-based fuel fires.  Please use appropriate PPE & take the necessary safety precautions when using these live fire demonstrations.

  3. Foam Application Techniques, Proportioners, & Nozzles – some of these methods can be shown in small pan fire scenarios.  However, the most effective method is practicing the techniques with your specific foam concentrate, proportioner, hose & nozzles to fully understand how the system impacts the performance.

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