Buckley Fire Department adopts safer procedures when using fire extinguishing foam

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Luke W. Nowakowski
  • 460th Space Wing Public Affairs

         Foam has been used by the Air Force to extinguish fuel fires for decades. The foam is very effective at blanketing a fire and starving it of oxygen. However, recently the use of foam by Air Force fire departments has come under scrutiny because of the chemical make-up of the foam. Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid are components of the foam that were discovered in the drinking water in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Despite efforts to prevent harmful chemicals that make up the foam from seeping into local water supplies, Pfos and Pfoa levels within the ground water reached unsafe levels. In order to correct and continue safe practices, the Air Force has devised a way that it can test its fire truck pumps without having to spray foam into the environment.

         “Water alone won’t put out fire effectively especially when you are dealing with hydrocarbon fuels,” said Andre Sanders, Buckley AFB Fire Department assistant chief. “Water doesn’t mix well with those fuels so they began using foam to better extinguish fuel fires.”

         To make sure fire truck pumps were working correctly, Air Force fire crews used to run foam through their truck pumps and expel foam into the environment. Due to the hazards of expelling foam into the environment because of its chemical makeup, the Air Force now instructs all fire crews to use a recirculating mechanism that can run foam through truck pumps to make sure all pumps are performing up to standard without having to expel foam into the environment. This not only prevents hazards chemicals from seeping into the water table but also saves the Air Force money because foam isn’t being wasted in order to test fire truck pumps, explained Tim Bosch, Buckley Fire Department chief.

         As well, the Air Force has begun using a new foam that doesn’t use the hazardous chemicals Pfos and Pfoa. The new foam is an improvement on the previous formula used to make the foam.

         “The old protein foam from the 70’s and 80’s would make you nervous,” said Sanders. “You could see where the foam had dripped out and literally stripped the paint off the truck. The chemical component of the foam has progressively gotten better and safer over the years.”

         Buckley AFB Fire Department along with Fire Departments across the Air Force have adjusted their practices when it comes to the use and chemical makeup of foam used to extinguish fires. These safer practices will not only help the environment and surrounding communities but also save the Air Force money.