By Jeff Cotner
There are a few things you should considerr if you are in the market for a new fire truck and are considering adding Class “A” foam. First, educate your personnel before writing the truck specifications. Bring a training program into the firehouse and explain what Class “A” foam is and what it is not, what it will do and what it will not do. This will get the firefighters interested in Class “A” foam and make them feel a part of the new idea.
Following the classroom training, use it in a live fire training exercise. If this is not possible, at least provide some hands-on time: Burn a pile of pallets and let the firefighters use the Class “A” foam to extinguish the fire. Training like this works better than the chief’s simply telling the firefighters, “Here is our new engine. It has Class ‘A’ foam; use it.” As part of this training, explain that the successful use of Class “A” foam requires a better pump operator, one who must be able to tell if the system is working and making the correct foam type, and knows what to do to make the system work if is not working.
The next thing to do is go talk to some departments that are using Class “A” foam. Ask what they would recommend and what problems they have encountered. I have to caution you here: Make sure you visit a department that is using the foam successfully. I recently taught a class at a department that has had difficulty in getting its foam system to work properly. This is not the fault of Class “A” foam, but no one had anything good to say about it because the manufacturer of the truck has some faults.
That said, do your homework. Research truck manufacturer and their experience with Class “A” foam. Do not depend on the salesperson to lead you in the right direction when it comes to Class “A” foam. Some salespeople out there may not be very educated in the use of Class “A” foam. Always request to talk with a Class “A” Foam expert from the truck manufacturer when searching for the best way to meet your department’s needs.
Be sure to talk to another manufacturer and get a different view. Some manufacturers have different thoughts on the use of Class “A” foam. You may like someone else’s idea better.
Regardless of the manufacturer’s approach, the end result is the same: We are putting the white stuff on the red stuff. Arriving at that point is different with each manufacturer. The most important thing is to find a system you can understand and that is simple to operate. Don’t allow the salespeople to tell you their system has had no problems, because they all have some problems. This is somewhat of a new technology, and it has changed over the years. Make the manufacturers tell you what they have done to change with the times. It shouldn’t be a secret. Have them bring a truck to you so you can operate it and maybe even use it on a training fire.
It may not be in your budget to purchase a compressed air foam system (CAFS) at this time, but you can still get in the Class “A” foam business by adding a proportioner to your truck. You can use a regular fog nozzle or, better yet, an air aspirated-nozzle, which will make your water much more effective. Class “A” foam has the ability to break the surface tension of water and allow it to penetrate our Class “A” fuel. A CAFS adds a few other benefits over the naturally aspirated foam, but it is not a must-have if you are on a limited budget. Most of the departments that have gone this route have added the CAFS on their next engine.
The idea of Class “A” foam is very simple. You add soap in your water at home to wash the dishes; we add soap to wash our fire trucks. Why do we do this? The soap makes the water more effective in removing the dirt, because it penetrates the dirt. Fighting fire is no different; we are just adding a little soap in the water to make the water more effective. As complicated as some people might think this is, it’s really as simple as that.
A new engine is a purchase your department will have to live with for the next 10 to 20 years. If you’re buying an engine without Class “A” foam, it is already obsolete.
Jeff Cotner, a 23-year veteran of the fire service, has served the past 16 years with the Bloom Township (OH) Fire Department, where he is a lieutenant. He is vice president of the Ohio Society of Fire Service Instructors and a fire training officer II at the Ohio Fire Academy. You can contact him at Jcot551@yahoo.com.