CAFS: So Effective It Changed The Rules, So We Changed The Laws

Once in a great while, a new firefighting technology comes along that is so revolutionary it forever changes our industry.


Once in a great while, a new firefighting technology comes along that is so revolutionary it forever changes our industry. For us here at the Travis County Emergency District 2 in Pflugerville, TX, just outside Austin, that technology is the compressed air foam system (CAFS). I’m sure the...


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Once in a great while, a new firefighting technology comes along that is so revolutionary it forever changes our industry. For us here at the Travis County Emergency District 2 in Pflugerville, TX, just outside Austin, that technology is the compressed air foam system (CAFS).

I’m sure the firefighters who used the first engine-driven pump or aerial-mounted waterway felt the same way we did when we first saw our CAFS equipment work. The result literally makes the uninitiated stand there staring in disbelief. After having seen how effective CAFS is, it is inconceivable that our department would ever give it up. CAFS not only changed the way we fight fires, but the entire way we think about fighting fires.

Using Class A foam in conjunction with CAFS has the ability to soak the fuel and choke the oxygen out of a fire far beyond the capabilities of water alone. Because removing fuel and oxygen is basic firefighting theory, there isn’t a fire that occurs in this district in which we don’t apply foam. CAF systems have a tremendous reach that keeps firefighters at a safer distance from the flames. Plus, its ability to quickly knock down flames reduces smoke, which improves visibility for firefighters.

Because of our experience with CAFS and its incredible effectiveness and reduced property damage, our department and district supervisors felt strongly enough about CAFS that we retrofitted every pumper in our department. But we didn’t stop there. We felt it was our duty, as firefighters, to tell others about the effectiveness and benefits of CAFS.

We worked with key district administrators to provide compelling evidence to the Texas Legislature. As a result, the governor of Texas signed into law our bill requiring that insurance companies give homeowners a reduced rate on insurance premiums in cities and areas protected by CAFS. This is significant because Texas is a large state both in terms of size and population.

This new law is plain economics. If your department uses CAFS, the total fire damage during a year in your service area will be less and therefore the amount insurance companies will have to pay will be less.

We didn’t start out to change the whole state. We just wanted a CAF system to increase the effectiveness of traditional Class A foam systems on the numerous dry grass fires we get in the rural part of our district. We serve a 100-square-mile urban interface area of Travis County. We’d used foam as a wetting agent to prevent grass fires from spreading. The Hercules CAF system, manufactured by Pierce Manufacturing, is at least five times more effective than water alone. When we began researching CAFS, we were introduced to Clarence Grady, lead foam systems manager for Pierce and a pioneer in CAFS development. Grady began educating us about the effectiveness and the multitude of uses of CAFS. I became a CAFS disciple.

Originally, I convinced my commissioners that with CAFS we would be ahead in the long run. But after a short time, our success was such that our commissioners ordered all of our existing trucks to be retrofitted with CAFS. We think this additional investment could be paid back through reduced damage in just a single large fire.

When we spoke to the Legislature, we cited several examples. The Pflugerville and neighboring Austin fire departments responded to a call to a large commercial carpet warehouse with flames coming out of the roof. It was big enough that it was first spotted by someone on the other side of Interstate Highway 35, which runs through the middle of the district. Austin brought two aerial units and two additional pumpers. We responded with two CAFS-equipped engines. Because of how far the fire progressed, we discussed whether we should set up a defensive position and focus on protecting the adjacent property. We quickly decided to take an attack position using only two 13¼4-inch CAFS lines.

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