Compressed Air Foam Systems in Limited Staffing Conditions

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By Robert G. Taylor

This research project explored the feasibility of enhancing suppression crews of limited manpower by equipping them with Class A foam and Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS) technology and training.

The problem that was addressed was that, especially in the early stages of fire suppression operations, there were frequently insufficient personnel to employ traditional extinguishment methods safely and efficiently.

The purpose of this research project was to determine if CAFS technology and procedures could be used to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and safety under limited personnel resource conditions.

Descriptive research, including the literature review, was used to explore the safety and operational results of understaffing, and to clarify the present state of development of compressed air foam and Class A foam. Evaluative research was used to measure hoseline handling for CAFS and traditional (plain water) handlines.

The research questions posed were:

  1. What are the effects of reduced manpower upon suppression activities with regards to efficiency and safety?
  2. What are the recognized advantages and disadvantages of CAFS when used in structural firefighting?
  3. How do CAFS hoseline handling characteristics differ from those of plain water hoselines?
  4. Can the use of CAFS by an understaffed crew reduce the number of stress and fatigue injuries at suppression incidents?
  5. Can the use of CAFS increase the suppression ability of an understaffed firefighting force?

The procedure began with a literature review of staffing practices, including the effects of minimal staffing of suppression crews. Next, the description, history, and extinguishment theory of CAFS; the claimed advantages and limitations of CAFS technology; and test data and anecdotal reports of fire experience with CAFS were examined for possible impact on minimum staffing safety and inefficiency problems. CAFS hose handling was field tested.

CAFS was found to provide increased suppression capability to crews of limited manpower and to reduce stress and fatigue of hoseline operators.

Recommendations included investigation and purchase of a CAFS for the Morristown Fire Bureau, and further research into the suppression abilities of CAFS.