From Travis J. Reed, Briar V.F.D., TX
“... 4 tankers, 4 engines and 8,000 gallons of water on the fire, the structure was still burning... we offered our Porta-CAFS system and all it took was 300 gallons of water, a small amount of foam and about 10 minutes later we were all on our way home.”
From the UK's Fire Magazine, May 2004
“Porta-CAFS is ticking all the boxes”
by Gary McDowall
(Gary McDowall comments on the Porta-CAFS 650 unit following six months of field trials using various foam concentrates.)
Having been in the firefighting chemical business for more than 17 years, I have seen many innovative ways of delivering firefighting chemicals to a fire. It has always been a very important part of my business to fully appreciate the capability of a delivery system, after all measuring the firefighting performance of a chemical such as foam or dry powder can only take place when it is applied to a fire.
During that time I have experienced the good, the bad and the plain ugly when it comes to applying chemicals, but very rarely a piece of equipment comes along that makes one sit up and pay attention. The Porta-CAFS is one such case. The last time I felt that a single piece of equipment would make a significant change to industry thinking, was the dual dry powder and foam nozzle developed in the USA. This technology radically changed thinking regarding multi-chemical application. That was nearly eight years ago when I first watched it being used during a visit to the USA and it is now used extensively throughout the world. Having tested the Porta-CAFS unit, I am convinced it will have a similar impact, this time for very different reasons
What is a Porta-CAFS?
The unit itself is very simple. A very important tick in the box to start.
Essentially, a lightweight fan driven by a small petrol engine. The fan forces high volumes of air (650 CFM) via a short flexible tube to a one-metre lightweight stainless steel pipe. At the beginning of the pipe is a valve and hose connection to control the flow of pre-mixed water foam solution. Following the valve is a stainless steel deflector containing an interchangeable nozzle. The whole unit is supported on a well-designed back harness with adjustable shoulder and chest straps. The Porta-CAFS’s lightweight construction weighs no more than 14 kilos and allows the unit to be brought into operation very quickly.
How does a Porta-CAFS work?
The fan delivers the air, up to 650 cubic feet per minute at maximum engine revs. An engine throttle situated on the end of an extended arm controls the speed of the fan. The arm also has an engine stop next to the throttle. The premixed water and foam (operating between six and forty bar) is then injected through the nozzle via the control valve where it is deflected into the air stream, creating vast quantities of expanded foam. The control valve is very important as its position determines the type and quality of foam produced. Using less foam solution will produce a drier foam, extending the drainage time dramatically. With the valve fully open, the foam produced is extremely dense with incredible adhesion properties, ideal for use on vertical or curved structures. Once again, due to the high volumes of air entrained into the foam solution, the drainage time is very slow. The most prominent feature when using Porta-CAFS, is the considerable reduction in water usage, whilst delivering large volumes of finished foam. Medium expansion foam concentrates provide a higher quality of finished foam. If the medium expansion foam is a fluoro-surfactant free product, then this conjunction with the low water volumes required, is certainly environmentally advantageous.
The Porta-CAFS is ergonomically designed for ease of use. During the trials, all those who used the unit have commented on how easy it is to carry on ones back and more importantly, how easy it is to use. One important feature of the design is ‘ease of use’. Many clever ideas fail because the operator is uncomfortable or takes a dislike to its operation. This is certainly not the case with the Porta-CAFS.
Where would you use the Porta-CAFS?
Following recent trials, it would be a more difficult task to describe where it couldn’t be used.
This is a very versatile piece of equipment with many varied applications. One should consider where water is at premium and where the trials first focused.
Any Fire Service or business responsible for dealing with or protecting large areas of land where access is likely to be restricted, for a vehicle for instance where water supplies are limited.
It is an irony that one of the UK’s largest suppliers of water has taken a serious interest in Porta-CAFS. A business responsible for large areas of land generally covered with bracken and various vegetation, woodland and forest. During the long hot summer of 2003, the company had a large proportion of its manpower and resources fighting fire out breaks on a daily basis. Often acts of arson. Using Porta-CAFS, they have determined that they will not only be able to deploy proactive firefighting quickly but prevent fire spread, by laying down a layer of foam as fire break. In this case, the use of BIO FOR N, a bio degradable foam product which is fluorosurfactant free, provides a complete answer to the problems they have recently experienced. The company plan to make full use of their 4x4 vehicles to access more remote areas of land to deploy the Porta-CAFS units.
In Germany, a recently published study into weather conditions in Europe, shows that 2003 had the hottest, driest summer since records began in 1647. Further evidence took this date back a further 150 years, clearly indicating that we are now experiencing the hottest summers for 500 years. Between the years 1996 and 2003, each summer has produced higher temperatures and a drier Europe. The devastating land fires seen in southern Europe for many years, are very quickly finding a place in our day to day experience across the UK. In the next few years they will become more common place.
The Nuclear Industry has shown great interest in this unit following demonstrations on site. Any reduction in water usage for firefighting in this industry is a major step forward. Water is deemed as a moderator, which can lead to undesirable complications if fire is located close to Uranium.
The Porta-CAFS also has a role to play in aviation. The RAF have seen the advantages of not only requiring low volumes of water but of generating a foam that will adhere to vertical surfaces, as a curved fuselage. The RAF continue to investigate the versatility and its application for use in helicopter applications.
There is a growing interest in CAF (compressed air foam) in the industry today. The title of Porta-CAFS describes what it does perfectly. A portable and versatile option for delivering an air generated finished foam. A foam that is long lasting and stable. It is able to deliver this option at a fraction of the cost of conventional CAF Units.
In summary, the simple, easy to use, versatile pieces of equipment always break through to find their place in the firefighting industry. This is not just my experience but many years of equipment development around the world prove this to be a fact. My prediction qualified or otherwise, is that the Porta-CAFS is here to stay because it meets a genuine need for many facets of our industry today.