Basic Foam Operations - Part 1

Today’s firefighters are trained in a host of topics and the amount of information that they are exposed to can become quite overwhelming. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of all members to immerse themselves into the job and learn everything they...


Today’s firefighters are trained in a host of topics and the amount of information that they are exposed to can become quite overwhelming. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of all members to immerse themselves into the job and learn everything they can. In this day of limited staffing, it is imperative that each member of the team be able to contribute the most to their company, from the newest rookie firefighter to the seasoned company officer. There is no room to hide in today’s fire service.

Responding to incidents involving Class B spills and fires are no exception. Our members must have a working knowledge of what to do upon arrival. Theory and practice will keep our companies and personnel safe.

The Need for Effective Foam Operations

One of the topics that all members should have a solid working knowledge of is in basic foam operations. Not only does the proper delivery of finished foam extinguish a flammable or combustible liquid, it can also be used to prevent fires from even happening.

The need for fire departments to respond to incidents involving flammable and combustible liquids is certainly not new. You could go back in time a century before and find that even the Ford Model T had a 10-gallon fuel tank and versions were available that ran on gasoline (a hydrocarbon fuel) and ethanol (a polar solvent). Take a look at the history of the automobile on the Web and you can get an idea of just how our present infrastructure and transport system started.

Now, take into account the need for an infrastructure that supports the ever-growing vehicle industry and what you have are communities that need municipal fire departments capable of handling such incidents. As time goes on, this need will continue to magnify. Today, we have commercial vehicles on the road that typically have 80- to 100-gallon fuel tanks, and SUV’s and pickup trucks that have fuel tanks with more than 40 gallons of fuel. The need for an effective response to incidents involving flammable and combustible liquids is significant.

This series of articles is designed to build upon the training each member has received thus far in basic foam operations for Class B type incidents. It is a very basic approach that is designed to give our company firefighters and fire officers a more thorough grasp of what could be a very in-depth topic. Also, the topic of Class A foam is another interesting avenue of study, but it is outside the realm of this series; please take a look at the exceptional references and sources at the end of this article for further study. The primary topics that we’ll cover over the next seven articles include:

  • Class B fires and spills
  • Types of foam concentrate
  • How foam works
  • Proportioning
  • Application rates
  • Applying foam
  • Typical scenarios
  • Setting up a foam delivery system in your department

In the fire service, we can be called upon to respond to a variety of incidents. Fires and spills involving flammable or combustible liquids shouldn’t be a surprise. With minimal basic equipment and through training, familiarization and study, every engine company should be able to execute a basic foam operation. Together, the multiple units that make up a first-alarm assignment should be able to engage in moderately sized operations. It is this basic approach to spill and fire response that will guide us over the next few articles and set the stage for even larger scale operations.

As for overall training and experience of each company member, well, that can vary dramatically. All of our probationary firefighters have received a healthy background into the five classifications of fire. During basic training, there was an emphasis of how to extinguish each of these classes and the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of extinguishing agents. As our more seasoned firefighters have continued with their training, they have developed a greater respect and additional real-world experiences that build upon what they were taught years before. The company officer, who has the responsibility of commanding the company in battle has (hopefully!) continued with their training and can safely lead their troops into any of a myriad of situations and not get them hurt. Nowhere could a situation go from boring and mundane to explosive in the blink of an eye than when dealing with ignitable vapors and gases. Let’s take a look at the typical Class B incidents that we might encounter at any time.

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