Compressed-air foam systems frequently get a bad rap from mechanics and emergency vehicle technicians, partly because of the systems’ complexity. But rather than look at the system as a whole, instructors at last week’s International Class A Foam and CAFS Academy recommend that technicians look at the three components that make up a CAFS as separate systems.
“[Technicians] need to break it down into the three main components: traditional fire pump, a traditional foam proportioner and an air compressor system,” said Ray Frey, customer service manager withArizona, who was one of the instructors for the foam academy’s mechanics’ track. “Most technicians look at the whole system and say it won’t work. We teach them to break the system down and what components are we working on.”
About seven years ago, Frey and Keith Klassen began to develop mechanic-specific classes on foam systems. They found that they couldn’t fit all the information they had to deliver into an 8-hour class and now they insist on 16 hours for a training class in order to really delve into CAFS.
“In years past, maintaining a CAF system would be a problem because of the lack of information and lack of classes on how to maintain the system,” Frey said.
Frey, Klassen and other CAFS instructors teach the basics of CAFS, and then go in depth with the each component of the systems, focusing on the foam proportioner and the air control circuit because, according to Frey, that’s where they see most issues.
“Once we do that, it clarifies the rest for the technician. From there we take them outside to run the system,” Frey said. “We make the system not function and have the students troubleshoot and make the repairs.”
Most CAFS instructors I have met are very objective and eager to dispel myths and rumors about CAFS. In fact, due to the high number of participants in the Glendale foam academy’s mechanic track,’s Clarence Grady jumped in and helped teach one group of students.
“Rather than teach just our system, we feel we should educate on all systems,” Frey said. “It’s better for the industry and for the fire service. Our goal is to get the information out and let the customers decide which one they like.”
“If technicians don’t know how to repair CAFS, they do the firefighters no good; the technicians should be higher skilled than the firefighters, otherwise how will they know if CAFS is operating or not?”
I’ve been writing about Class A for more than 18 years, and I’ve found that three arguments keep fire departments from embracing foam: lack of training, myths, and cost. I think the benefits of using foam, however, far exceed the arguments, but then again I just spent three days immersed in bubbles.