Foam Operations

By Ronald E. Kanterman

“Well,” you’re thinking, “it’s easy enough: Stretch a line, break the line, place the in-line eductor in, start water, and place the pickup tube in the five-gallon bucket.” Right? Maybe. Then again, most of you probably have a foam cell on the apparatus with a preconnected line. This is better than the old pickup tube but not the cure-all.

Consider that when the 8,500-gallon gasoline tanker rolls over in town and starts to burn, a 50-gallon foam cell won’t do it. Now you’re thinking, “You expect us to carry enough foam for that?” Well, let me enlighten you.

Gasoline is the number one most misunderstood hazardous material in the country. We truck it up and down the streets, highways, and byways of our cities, towns, and villages every day of the year in thin-skinned aluminum tanks. Certain trucking firms pay their drivers “by the load” so they try to “make time” out on the road. Inevitably, they have a mishap. This it predictable!

This aside, the key to foam operations is to have enough on hand to put the fire out. Otherwise, you’re just making expensive foam for nothing, sending it down the sewer and not achieving extinguishment.

Consider these key issues for foam operations:

  • Calculate what you’ll need. Take the square-foot area of the burning pool and multiply by .10. (I like .16 myself but .10 will do). Example: You have a 20 X 50 pool = 1,000 square feet X .10 = 100 gpm. If you can’t deliver 100 gpm, don’t start. You’re wasting foam.
  • Assemble your resources first and strategize.
  • Don’t waste your foam, especially if only have limited quantities.
  • Preplan fixed facilities in your district. Know how much foam you’ll need to make if you respond to the local tank farm, etc.
  • Conduct an occasional foam drill. Since most of you rarely have the occasion to perform foam operations, it’s too late to try to figure it all out when you’re on the scene.
  • Consider using dry chemical in combination with foam. You’ll achieve greater knockdown.
  • Consider pumping foam into fixed sprinkler systems, standpipe systems, etc. through the fire department connection. Get out of the box!

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 master’s 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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