BY GEARY ROBERTS
Compressed air foam systems (CAFS) are consistently gaining momentum throughout the fire service industry. As more and more departments across the United States and around the world consider CAFS for their daily operations, one question arises without fail: How can you confidently select a new system you know little to nothing about?
Purchasing CAFS doesn’t have to be a painful, confusing process. By analyzing your department’s workings and researching the functions of potential CAF units, you can purchase with confidence and implement the right system.
AN EFFECTIVE TOOL
Like all fire suppression apparatus, CAFS have limitations. To counter those confines, a department must evaluate how CAFS will work best to meet its needs.
Photo courtesy of Waterous Worldwide.
Departments must understand the size of potential CAFS and the flow requirements, wet or dry, of each discharge. Understanding size and flow allows departments to determine which lines to operate simultaneously. When using Class B foam, for example, consider the foam proportioner capacity because of the higher percentage requirements (three- to six-percent concentrates), as the capacity will ultimately limit the total foam solution flow.
Additionally, while CAFS work well using hydrant water supply, operations generally improve when operating from a tank or draft. At a minimum, specify apparatus with a direct tank fill and, ideally, an auto tank fill system.
ENSURE EASY OPERATIONS
To help integrate CAFS into your department seamlessly, specify and install the units you purchase for operator simplicity.
Activating both the compressor and proportioner when the pump is engaged is one functional element to ensure simple operations. Dual activation reduces the number of steps needed to use the CAFS and the time required to transport foam solution to the nozzle.
An automated CAFS discharge valve can simplify pump operations and help ensure appropriate foam production and discharge; it helps operators by allowing them to consistently select the same foam solution type.
THE RIGHT FOAM
A key component in selecting CAFS requires evaluating foam types in conjunction with the apparatus’ primary purpose. Class B foam concentrates are typically more viscous and flow in higher ratios than Class A foam concentrates. Therefore, Class B operations require a proportioner capable of pumping the proper volume of these viscous concentrates.
Along with Class A vs. Class B foam, your department must also evaluate wildland vs. interface vs. structural fires. Each of these fire problems necessitates varying foam capabilities, and the foam system you select must suit those needs.
Above all, remember firefighter safety when evaluating foam systems. Always specify a foam tank refill system that avoids exceeding the onboard foam tank capacity as well as prevents firefighters from having to climb on top of the apparatus to refill the tank.
POWER AND PERFORMANCE
The method by which you power the air compressor must be properly paired with the apparatus’ mission. Structural incidents typically require only stationary pumping ability; in these situations, it’s best to power the air compressor with the truck engine or stationary pump transmission.
Urban interface and wildland fires require pump-and-roll capability, but powering the air compressor using the truck motor in these instances can result in a somewhat limited performance. Therefore, the best method for pump-and-roll operations is powering the air compressor from an auxiliary motor separate from the truck engine.
SPECIFY OPERATOR EDUCATION
Departments must specify firefighter instruction when they purchase new CAFS to ensure a smooth transition and firefighter buy-in to CAFS use.
Bad first experiences are hard to overcome, and improper firefighting habits are hard to break when integrating and learning new apparatus, so start fresh with proper education. Hands-on and theoretical education can make your new CAFS easier to learn and help alleviate personnel’s initial reluctance to accept the new technology.
When researching manufacturer options, make sure instruction will take place at your fire department. Also, specify that a qualified instructorwho is both a firefighter and a CAFS userfacilitate the courses so your firefighters learn from a person who teaches from experience.
Knowledge is power, and the only way to purchase CAFS with confidence and authority is to continue to increase your knowledge on the available systems. Matching your findings with your department’s needs will ensure you purchase the right CAFS to enhance your fire suppression capabilities, daily operations, and civic responsibilities.
GEARY ROBERTS is the Arizona operations president of Pneumax, which was acquired by Waterous in 2000. He founded an equipment and fire apparatus dealership in 1989 after a decades-long career as a Glendale (AZ) firefighter. He then founded Pneumax in 1993.