By Keith Klassen
Published Tuesday, October 2, 2012
To ensure your department understands how to effectively apply compressed air foam (CAF) technology, the key is training. When looking at fire departments both large and small that have tried CAFS and failed, the common dominator is typically ineffective or non-existent training.
The subject of training should be on your mind as you’re writing the specs for your new apparatus. Consider what instruction is included with the system, as it varies widely throughout the industry. Some manufacturers provide no instruction while others provide half a day at the factory, allowing fire department personnel to participate in the final inspection and pick up the apparatus. Still others provide instruction at the fire station.
Holding the class at your department has the advantage of allowing more personnel to participate. You may decide to use the “train the trainer” concept and have only your key training personnel attend the class. If so, it’s still advantageous to hold the class at your facility for a couple reasons: 1) The logistics of travel, scheduling, overtime, etc., are easier to figure out and 2) you’re “at home” where you can discuss and deal with all the variables that make your department unique, such as call types and volumes, mutual-aid companies, the foam concentrate you’re using, the water supply and quality in your area and local weather conditions.
What to Look for In an Instructor
Consider who will be instructing your class and their qualifications—they should have several, including:
- Firefighting experience;
- Experience fighting fire with CAFS; and
- They should be a qualified fire service instructor.
These qualifications give the instructor basic credibility, which therefore makes the class much more effective.
Other qualifications and qualities an effective instructor should have include the ability to communicate with your personnel on a user-to-user level. They can also tell you what will happen when a given CAFS is used in various situations. We’ve all attended a class where a salesperson or a factory representative came out to teach the class, and told us turn this knob and pull that lever—but they had no idea why the system worked the way it did, how to troubleshoot it if it didn’t work, and they couldn’t answer our what-if questions.
Know Your Foam
The instruction you receive is extremely important; however, it’s just the tip of the training iceberg that will allow the most effective use of your CAFS. Being able to run the system and get foam out of the hoseline is the easy part. We’ve all been operating fire pumps for years. Plus, firefighters are smart people, so they’ll easily master the steps needed to add foam and air to water. They’ll also readily understand how to change the foam consistency.
Important: Your training cannot end there. Your personnel must thoroughly understand what type of foam to use in various tactical situations. Should the CAF be wet and sloppy like melted ice cream or thick like shaving cream? Both are tools in the firefighter’s tool box and have their proper tactical application.
Speaking of tools, CAFS is just that, a tool. And as such, you must also understand the accessories and other tools that help implement its affects. For example, do you know when and where to use only your foam proportioner? Do you know when and where to use your aspirating nozzle to your tactical advantage?
In addition to knowing what type of finished foam to use and when to use it, you also need to understand the variables. The question often arises, “How long will the foam stay after the application?” But there’s no specific answer. The time will vary according to how you made the foam, what you applied it to, the weather conditions, the foam concentrate used and your water quality.
As you can see, some variables will be specific to your location. This is why training is so important. Learning what will happen takes practice; therefore, you must train in various conditions and become familiar with how the foam works, so that whether you’re fighting a fire or protecting an exposure, you’ll apply the right product at the right time.
The Real Deal
Most importantly, you must train with live fire. Filling the parking lot with bubbles or coating the side of the station has its place, but having a handle on extinguishing fire with foam only comes with hands-on, live-fire experience. There are differences both in the application techniques and in how the fire environment changes when using CAF. You can discuss this in a classroom setting, but for most firefighters, seeing is believing and understanding.
The best opportunity to experience live-fire training with CAFS is in an acquired structure where you’re surrounded by Class A fuels; however, knowing the logistical and safety issues that come with that type of training, your next best bet is a burn facility. But if you elect to use a burn building, it must be capable of using Class A fuel; propane-fired burn buildings won’t provide a real-life experience with CAF. Even a burn building using Class A fuels is still a concrete or metal box. Because of this, the effects of CAF won’t be as great. Another thing to keep in mind: Most burn rooms are fairly small and easily overwhelmed with water, let alone CAF, so it’s harder to see the effectiveness of the foam.
Don’t Forget the Chief!
While most CAFS training efforts will be directed toward line personnel, don’t forget other personnel who will need instruction, such as chief officers, fire investigators, public information officers and emergency vehicle technicians (EVTs). Note: Some of these groups require specific, focused instruction to help them understand how CAFS affects their jobs.
The Bottom Line
As with anything else, the more you train with and use your new CAF system, the more proficient you’ll become. Keep in mind that there is no single right way to use CAFS. You need to find out what works best for your department—and that only comes with training and time.
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