Fighting Fire With 90 Percent Less Water

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To extinguish a home fully engulfed in flames, Payson firefighters could use 10,000 gallons of water -- even more.

That's nearly a third of the 31,390 gallons of water the average Payson resident uses in a year.

With the latest firefighting technology and a new truck, the Payson Fire Department can get the job done using 1,000 gallons or less -- a 90-percent reduction.

"Firefighting foam has been around for many years," said Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi. "But compressed air foam is a relatively new technology coming on the scene within the last 10 years."

Until recently, Compressed-Air Foam Systems (CAFS) were reserved for fighting industrial blazes and wildfires, but significant technological advances have made the foam's use more effective and less expensive for local fire departments.

"CAFS was one of the critical features we were looking for on the new truck," deMasi said. "When we received approval to buy a truck we put together an apparatus committee -- a group of firefighters who did research and came up with what would work best for Payson with the money we had available."

Payson's new engine, EP121, is the only vehicle in the Payson inventory that has CAFS technology, saving consumers and firefighters time, money and property.

How it works

Firefighters have always relied on the cooling properties of water to extinguish fires.

"First you have plain water because it's readily available, cheap and it works pretty well," deMasi said. "The advantage to adding foam to the water is that it multiplies the extinguishing capacity many times more than plain water."

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Compressed-Air Foam Systems (CAFS) was one of the critical features the Payson Fire Department was looking for when it purchased its newest truck.

Chief deMasi said the foam acts as insulation, retaining water and creating a shield that minimizes the damaging effects of fire.

"The advantage on this truck is when you add the compressed air component to the foam it makes bubbles," deMasi said. "By making the bubbles, water is able to absorb even more heat. It also sticks to surfaces very well. It's like having a sheet of water that stays where you put it."

The foam's superior firefighting qualities offer other advantages. Heavy hoses, cumbersome protective clothing, stressful conditions and heat make firefighting a physically challenging profession, but, according to deMasi, the foam alleviates fatigue.

"It makes the hose lines lighter," deMasi said. "Because there's air trapped in the foam/water mixture, it makes the hoses much more maneuverable."

Meanwhile, the environmentally friendly foam benefits consumers and fire victims by reducing property damage.

"You put out the fire faster, so you have less fire damage. You put less water down so you have less water damage. And any time you can put out a fire faster, it's good news for everyone," deMasi said.

The foam costs the town about $12.50 per gallon of concentrate, and a gallon of foam will typically treat 500 gallons of water.

"It's amazing," said Payson firefighter Rick Winton. "Our water goes a lot further. It's class A foam so it won't hurt furniture."

Winton and deMasi both said CAFS enhances visibility during a fire.

"One of additional benefits firefighters discovered when working with compressed air foam was that the bubbles attract carbon particles and cuts down on smoke production, deMasi said. "There is a marked difference and that was unexpected."

Engine 111, another Payson fire truck, was originally earmarked to be retrofit for the CAFS, but was removed due to budget constraints.

"Ideally, we'd like to retrofit all our fire engines with the CAFS to take advantage of this technology," deMasi said. "It saves water, it saves property and it saves time. And that means less threat to the neighborhood."

EP121

Purchased: December 2004

Cost: $295,750

Water storage: 500 gallons

Pumping capacity: 1,500 gallons per minute

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