Firefighting foam in fire suppression and what you need to know

Russian engineer and chemist Aleksandr Loran invented firefighting foam in the early 1900s.

Fire needs oxygen to burn.

The invention of fire extinguishing foam was to suppress a fire by cooling the fire down and coating the fuel to prevent contact with oxygen.

Different types of fire

There are six classes of fire:

  • Class A – Normal combustibles such as wood or plastic
  • Class B – Flammable liquids such as petrol or paint
  • Class C – Combustible gases such as LPG gas or natural gas
  • Class D – Flammable metals such as magnesium
  • Class E – Electrically energised equipment such as short-circuited machinery or overloaded electrical cables
  • Class F – Cooking oils such as vegetable oil, fats and lard.

Each fire type requires a specific fire safety approach when selecting fire extinguishers.

Firefighting foam remains on the ground

What is AFFF?

Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) is a synthetic, water-based foam developed in the 1960s by the US Navy. It has a low viscosity and can cover a large surface area quickly. The substance contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are processed chemicals used to resist heat.

AFFF is a foam blanket that suffocates a fire whilst cooling the fuel source or adjacent surface. The foam acts as a surfactant that lessens the surface tension of the water to improve water saturation in firefighting.

Firefighting foam from the firetruck remains on the road

What are the concerns surrounding the use of AFFF?

The PFAS chemicals used in AFFF have been shown to negatively affect the environment. The chemicals seep into the soil over time and pollute the groundwater and surrounding ecosystems. Fish, animals and even humans have shown varying toxicity levels from accumulated traces of AFFF.

Although AFFF itself is not dangerous, the chemicals used in AFFF in the firefighting equipment are. Research has shown that overexposure to AFFF chemicals can lead to various forms of cancer.

Silhouette shot of fire fighters with sunrise at the center and Australia flag at the background

What does the law say?

Under the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Amendment (PFAS Firefighting Foam) Regulation 2021, discharging PFAS firefighting foam for training or demonstration purposes will be a punishable offence.

From 26 September 2022, it will be an offence to discharge PFAS in any other circumstance except for a particular person to prevent or extinguish a fire deemed as catastrophic or for a person to prevent or extinguish a fire on a watercraft in State or prescribed waters.

Also, from September 2022, it will be an offence to sell a portable fire extinguisher containing PFAS unless granted specific permission from the necessary authority or as part of a watercraft purchase.

Engineer checking Industrial fire control system,Fire Alarm controller, Fire notifier, Anti fire

What does this mean for fire prevention, fire protection and fire safety?

Local fire and rescue teams in NSW have elected to use firefighting foam that is environmentally friendly and does not contain PFAS, considering the adverse effects the legacy AFFF foam has on surrounding natural habitats.

Fire prevention solutions differ for shopping centres, stadiums, commercial strata or industrial facilities, so a fire safety expert must conduct an accurate fire safety audit and design a fire protection solution that meets the needs of the environment and building type.

Fire fighting foam/water gun onboard of tanker ship

What do I need to know about my firefighting equipment and AFFF alternatives?

You need to know which firefighting foam is used in your fire safety equipment, whether replacement equipment is necessary and if so, what these alternatives might look like. You will also need to test the firefighting foam every six months to ensure buildings are fire compliant.

An alternative firefighting solution being used in Australia is the biodegradable Foam-F3. It is a fire extinguisher foam with the least environmental impact that is free of fluoro-organic compounds. Foam-F3 can be used in airports, vessels or ships and chemical and petrochemical industries.

Contact us to book an appointment to discuss your fire extinguisher needs or conduct a fire safety equipment test with one of our expert team members.

Contact DEM Fire & Essential Services Group

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