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Addressing the Risks (and Cost) of Firefighting Foam Training

 

Firefighting foams are essential tools for fighting fires, making firefighter foam training essential to every fire brigade.

When it comes to particularly hard to extinguish fires, like those whose source includes flammable liquids and/or petroleum (i.e., Class B fires), aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) is still the recommended option where lives or critical infrastructure are at stake. Such foams are essential in cases of aviation accidents, hydrocarbon fires, and on military bases.

For many years AFFF has been the standard firefighting foam. By the 1970s it was everywhere: naval vessels, military and civilian airbases, even in many municipal firehouses. At one time many firefighters used the same firefighting foam in training, on-scene, even to bathe themselves or their trucks.

But Class-B firefighting foams contain PFAS “forever chemicals.” These chemicals, while extremely useful, are now known to persist in the environment almost indefinitely, and cause long-term harmful health impacts to those exposed to them. That’s clearly a risk to firefighters, but also poses risks to communities near training grounds, because PFAS so easily leaches into community groundwater supplies.

Now, the cleanup after every use of a Class B foam has to be treated like a toxic spill. In many regions, PFAS-containing firefighting foams have been banned from the training ground.

Not only are firefighting foams now extremely hazardous; they are also expensive. Environmental and health impact reports, legislation, and litigation have all driven up the cost of using foam—making it a priority to only use it when absolutely necessary.

As a result, it is increasingly hard to train firefighters using AFFF. Simulation-based training allows us to minimize cost and eliminate chemical exposure while ensuring our fire crews are prepared for the unexpected.

 

PFAS-Free Firefighting Foam Training

According to some experts, like Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret., Chesterfield VA Fire and EMS Department), firefighting foam training should always be done with Class A foam. But sometimes that’s just not possible. During the phase-out of PFAS-containing default foams, there have been limited options for PFAS-free foam to extinguish Class B fires. And supply chain concerns have affected all sectors. But most of all, you can’t conduct firefighter foam training for a Class B fire if you can’t use a Class B fire foam.

Simulation-based training bridges this gap. For example, FAAC’s Pump-Ops immersive fire suppression training simulators can emulate flowing water or foam in any of a wide range of firefighting scenarios. The Pump-Ops simulator doesn’t just put your pump operator through the paces of normal operations with water or foam, but also any possible fault state or failure. Pump-Ops can be integrated into FAAC’s complete “Continuum” of fire training simulation solutions.  These include fire apparatus driving simulators, scenario emergency medical response sims, fire and hose control simulators, and InCommand, a virtual command and control training platform that prepares emergency crews to maintain situational awareness as they balance the often competing demands of managing the scene of a complex or large scale emergency incident.

 

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