There is little doubt that today’s recruits will need to deal with ever increasing amounts of new firefighting technology during their careers – much more, in fact, than what their veteran counterparts who are near retirement age had to handle during their tenure.
One example is the fire industry’s progress in developing a viable electronic firefighter locator system. With increased rates of technological change, firefighters just entering the fire service must readily adapt to new tools and technology intended to increase their safety and reduce property damage.
New technology in fireground operations means more areas of increased specialization and the need to learn new skills and firefighting practices. After all, the benefit of any new technology is directly proportionate to the understanding a firefighter has about its capabilities, limitations and how to use it.
One new technology finding its way into the thread of fireground operations is compressed air foam systems (CAFS). An important issue linked to successfully integrating CAFS into firefighting strategy is the need to get all personnel in a fire organization on the same page regarding an understanding of foam technology.
A typical organization has individuals with various knowledge levels on the subject of foam. In some cases firefighters exposed to CAFS for the first time have only had limited prior formal training, with much of their knowledge acquired through the whisper-down-the-lane approach. This can be a real problem since misinformation can override facts and data. A good foundation in foam and CAFS principles and practices is required for success.
There is a wider selection of foam agents and foam delivery hardware systems available today than ever before. After vetting the array of available apparatus equipment makes and models and finding the best fit for your fire applications and procedures, CAFS still leaves a number of choices for you to make. Include how to deploy the technology during day-to-day fire operations. Formulating standard operating guidelines will help to maximize technology benefits.
Speaking about needing to make choices, not too long ago, a special expert on “stress” was featured on a television news magazine, talking about why today’s average American seems so stressed out. When asked why, he simply said, “Too much choice causes stress.” It seems that people have more choices in their lives today than ever before.
Likewise, CAFS adds many choices to fireground operations, in areas such as nozzles, flow rates and application practices. When a CAFS pumper arrives at a working fire, following standard operating guidelines will reduce stress, increase safety and promote successful fire attacks.
Training Program Vital
A training and education program for the troops prior to equipment purchase is vital when planning to implement CAFS. First, bring apparatus vendors to your site to explain pump operation procedures and station-level equipment maintenance. Hands-on experience by your pump operators with demo apparatus provides a first look and reduces the fear factor in operating new, sometimes more complex equipment.
Beyond fire apparatus pump operation, work with a fire instructor who can bring your firefighters along to an adequate knowledge level in foam agent use and application. Live fire training in a reusable burn building or an acquired structure can also provide valuable training experience and increase confidence. The importance of conducting a good training and education program cannot be overemphasized.
EVTs Need To Know
During your department’s CAFS training and education program, don’t forget to include the emergency vehicle technicians (EVT). Just like pump operators, EVTs need to know the theory and practice behind how the unit operates and need to become competent in hands-on pump operation and station-level maintenance. If your department outsources all apparatus maintenance and repair, by all means contact your local vendor and have them attend the training along with your personnel.
Beyond basic station-level maintenance, there is in-depth maintenance, troubleshooting and repair for EVTs. The foam system manufacturer will typically provide in-depth EVT instruction. The manufacturer’s program, plus the EVT certification commission’s “F7” foam training curriculum, can provide the mechanics with confidence in approaching the care and maintenance of new equipment.
One department going through the CAFS implementation process is Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service (MCFRS) in Maryland. Montgomery County has just placed 39 new CAFS engines in service.
When the county determined that CAFS was to be specified on their new rigs, they began intensive training of all their service personnel, according to Richard Holzman, MCFRS apparatus section chief. “This training started with sending all of our service technicians and service managers to the OEM specific pump school,” he said. “This laid the foundation for future service and operational needs of our units.”
After the new units started to arrive at MCFRS, he said all fleet section personnel were put through the same operator training as the firefighters.
“This involved three hours of technical material review, three hours of classroom instruction and three hours of hands-on pump operation,” he said. “Also, we scheduled an OEM in-depth presentation on servicing the CAFS components. This course was a six-hour class that included actual hands-on service of a training unit.”
Chief Holzman said comprehensive training pays dividends. “If you are making an investment in your equipment, you have to be willing to continually invest in your service personnel,” he said. “This investment should allow you to reduce out of service time, improve your preventative maintenance program and provide your staff with greater knowledge, skills and abilities.”
It is never too early, or too late, to begin planning continuing training and education for the troops. Training and education remain a fundamental aspect of successfully integrating new technology in the fire service. Special thanks to Chief Holzman for sharing his experience with us.
Editor’s Note: Dominic Colletti is the author of two books – “The Compressed Air Foam Systems Handbook” and “Class A Foam – Best Practice For Structure Firefighters.” He is a former assistant fire chief and serves on the technical committee of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program. He is a fire instructor with over 20 years of CAFS firefighting experience.