New uses for foam in industry



For years, my “foam guy” (a persistent sales-man and longtime acquaintance) has been saying, “Chief, if you got a stubborn Class A fire, put a line from your (Class B) foam truck into the fire department sprinkler connection. It will help you achieve knockdown, especially below grade or in basements.”

Of course, I was as skeptical as you are now. This guy is trying to sell more foam, right? We milled this concept around at officer meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. Everyone was more or less indifferent to the concept. How can you put foam through regular sprinkler heads? Don’t we need aspirating heads for foam? We have them surrounding a couple of small 20,000-gallon solvent tanks. Don’t we need those types of heads to do this anywhere? These questions haunted us for a long time. My “foam guy” just kept shaking his head. “Just try it!” he said.


Well, the members were at the fireground doing live burn training, and I rolled into the training grounds much to the surprise of the troops. “The chief’s here; something’s up,” I overheard as I got out of my car. “Relax, we’re going to try something new,” I said. Then the “uh-oh’s” started.

We took a three-inch preconnected line (with 21/2-inch couplings) off our foam truck and ran it to the fire department connection on the burn building, which has a combination sprinkler and standpipe system. Being an industrial fire department, our apparatus makes finished foam solution to every outlet, so this was easy for us. The sprinkler head on the second floor of the burn building (no, it’s not a sprinklered burn building, just a demonstration system) is the standard 1657 head commonly used in offices, warehouses, and similar occupancies.

The fusible link was missing from previous burn exercises, but we tried it anyway. We pushed AFFF foam to the second floor and out of a “standard sprinkler” onto a burning pan of four liters of hexane. The sprinkler deflectors did a good enough job aspirating the foam. We had extinguishment in 30 seconds. (See the sequences in photographs.) The foam blanket looked as good as others we’ve seen with equipment designed for foam applications. The foam company the “foam guy” represents endorsed the use of foam for such applications, but from certain heads listed by Underwriters Laboratories for this type of application. However, it appears that this foam will work well almost anywhere, through almost any type of head. Get out and try it. You’ll be surprised.


So, we’re sitting around the fire station discussing the foam test when we get word that the new 100-foot foam tower may not arrive in time for the opening of our newly constructed process facility. The new facility will be pumping solvents through piping 110 feet above grade.

What’s next when the sprinklers are keeping things cool but are not extinguishing this high-rise flammable liquid fire? Foam in the standpipe! Now I’m getting looks from the gang. “Put the foam where, chief?”

“In the fire department connection for the standpipe system so we can take foam handlines into the modules and put foam on the fire. Whether the tower ladder shows or not, we need to get foam up to the top floor.”

We got a crew together and headed out to the construction site where this 133-foot-tall chemical process building is being erected. We currently have two temporary standpipe risers from grade to the roof with 21/2-inch outlets on each floor. We put a three-inch preconnected foam line (with 21/2-inch couplings) into the fire department connection and sent a crew up in the construction elevator with our high-rise packs/kits.

They put a 21/2-inch gated wye on the top floor outlet and ran two 13/4-inch lines to the rear of the building. We started water from the street without nozzles (open butt) to flush the pipes. We then opened the nozzles, started water for one minute, and then started the foam. The foam was as good at the 100-foot level as it would be if it were made at ground level through multiple lengths of hose.

This can be done in any building. If the foam is “soupy,” assign a firefighter to close the riser valve, because chances are you’re diluting the mixture from the water coming in through the main. Remember, however, that higher pump pressures should slam the check valve shut, therefore negating the need to close the supply. Also note that if a firefighter is assigned to the valve, he should stay there until the incident commander tells him to go, in case the system needs to be immediately restored.

You’ll never know if you don’t try. Don’t forget that professionals built the Titanic and amateurs built Noah’s Ark. I know most of you reading this are not industrial firefighters, but this concept of pumping Class B foam on Class A fires is something to think about. Think about the large warehouse in town, the storage building, the auto garage, a flammable liquid occupancy, below-grade occupancies, or any other building that has sprinklers and standpipes. Push your way out of the envelope. Get out of the box. Foam your way to success!

RONALD E. KANTERMAN is chief of emergency services for Merck & Co. in Rahway, New Jersey, and a volunteer on call member of the Borough of North Plainfield (NJ) Fire Rescue Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science administration and masters degrees in fire protection management and environmental science and is an adjunct professor of fire science at Middlesex County College. He is a member of the FDIC staff and advisory board and of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board.

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