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Foam Simulators for Safer ARFF Training

Fire training is always stressful and risky. But ARFF (aircraft rescue and firefighting) training is especially challenging. It’s not simply that this is higher stakes training that must cover a broad range of topics: response, hazard mitigation, evacuation, possible rescue of aircraft passengers or personnel, and coordination with civilian and other authorities in an airport ground emergency.

It’s also because ARFF emergencies almost always demand foam.

How Firefighting Foam Transformed ARFF

The US Navy developed the first Class-B aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) in the early-1960s. It was a game-changer, because it attacks hydrocarbon fuel-based fires on all fronts.

The low-viscosity foam rapidly spreads over the surface of burning fuel. Then, surfactants in the foam cause the water to break free, creating a continuous film between fuel and foam. That “aqueous film” both rapidly cools the fuel (preventing vapor formation and re-ignition) while denying the fire precious oxygen. This containment and rapid fire knockdown is vital for rescue teams responding to an aircraft emergency, when they need to move in quickly to preserve human life.

By 1970, firefighting foams were carried on all naval vessels, in use at most military installations, and being adopted by an increasing number of airports and even civilian fire brigades.

But firefighting foams—especially Class-B firefighting foams—contain PFAS “forever chemicals.” These are chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment. As their nickname implies, PFAS don’t break down on their own, remaining dangerous indefinitely. They persist in the body or environment unchanged, are hard to remediate, easily migrate via wind and water, and thus easily find their way into groundwater.

In many areas, cleanup following must treat Class B firefighting foam used during fire training or an airport emergency as a toxic spill. In some areas, regulation and litigation has made it functionally impossible for ARFF firefighters to train flowing foam.

Even in the absence of restrictions or mandated environmental remediation, training with actual foam is unattractive, because the foam is itself expensive.

Safely Training Aircraft Rescue Firefighters to Use Foam

But ARFF training must include hands-on experience extinguishing fires and addressing spills with Class-B AFFF. Flowing foam is different than flowing water. That’s not only the case for hose teams, who need different skills to effectively apply foam and suppress fuel fires. The pump operator also needs hands-on practice to be able to get the chemical mix correct for specific applications and be ready to adapt as conditions change on the fireground.

Currently, FAAC’s Pump-Ops (patent pending) is the only fire fighting simulation system that can emulate both water- and foam-based operations. Pump-Ops isn’t just a point-and-click software simulation. The Pump Ops simulator is a life-sized panel constructed from genuine OEM dials, switches, and levers, with tactile/visual/aural feedback systems integrated into the unit itself. Operators feel the rumble of the apparatus and can hear cavitation, enriching the immersion and familiarizing them with all the elements of “normal pump operations.” Pump-Ops runs on simulation software that accurately and precisely emulates hydraulics, water sources (static or pressurized), foam tanks, and a variety of handline and nozzle configurations. It can emulate water or foam at different concentrations, delivered through different spray settings or branch types, and is available in top-mount and side mount configurations, custom-built to match the equipment used by your firefighters.

Teach a Single Skill or Design a Complete Immersive Scenario, Whatever Works for Your Crew

Most importantly, Pump-Ops fire fighting simulators can function as either stand-alone training equipment or as part of an integrated multi-party immersive ARFF training environment.

For example, Pump-Ops can be paired with immersive fire suppression and hose training accessories so that pump operators and nozzle team can work through evolutions together, honing both communications and firefighting skills. Via VR goggles, force-feedback systems, heating elements, and an array of sensors and actuators, the aircraft rescue firefighters at the hose experience the same fire emergency as the pump operator. As the pump operator makes adjustments at Pump-Ops, the hose team feels the changes in pressure and stream and sees its impact on the fire. Everyone experiences the same shared immersive scenario—without taking any apparatus out of service, risking anyone’s safety, or opening a single bucket of foam concentrate.

Such networked simulations can be further expanded to include driving fire apparatus. For example, Pump-Ops integrates with FAAC’s driver training simulators, including the 2View Crew Trainer Simulator (the only firefighting vehicle training simulator that gives proper parallax views to both driver and passenger in accordance with NFPA 1500: A6.2.4).

All FAAC sims can be controlled through touchscreen simulation software, giving the trainer complete control and flexibility, both before and during scenarios. The software allows you to log all actions and decisions for later debriefing (with printed scoring sheets after each training evolution). Every pre-set training evolution is drawn from the IFSTA Pumping Apparatus Driver/Operator Skill Sheets. Trainers can also create customized scenarios and evolutions to meet requirements or match potential emergency situations unique to your situation.