Article Archive
Philosophy of Foam
2010 CAFS symposium promotes fire education
Volume 24, No. 5

Most firefighters look at compressed air foam systems (CAFS) either one of two ways, said Angela Gill of Fire Fighters Tool Company.

"Either they love it or they have no idea what it is," she said. "Once they know what it is they absolutely love it too."

Last December, Fire Fighters Tool Company Co-founder John B. Gill died after a lengthy illness. Angela, his wife, is dedicated to continuing John's work in promoting CAFS by holding the Fifth Annual John B. Gill CAFS Symposium on February 11 through 14, 2010. A venue for the symposium has yet to be announced.

Whereas air aspirated foam is largely a matter of hydraulics, compressed air foam merges hydraulics with pneumatic technology to produce a richer, thicker, higher-quality fire fighting foam and extend the reach of the unit's nozzle. Long accepted as an important tool in wildland fire fighting, CAFS gained ground in military, aviation and structural fire fighting after its faltering introduction in the 1970s and 1980s.

Standard aspirated nozzles create finished foam at the working end of the hose. By use of an eductor or direct injection, air is sucked into the nozzle causing the pressurized combination of foam solution and water to exit as foam. With CAFS, the process starts much earlier. Foam is produced by combining pressurized air with water and foam concentrate at the unit's pump. When it exits the hose under pressure, the foam has a rich, thick consistency most often compared to shaving cream.

Most fire departments that invest in CAFS have seen it used by neighboring firefighters and decided it could be an effective tool for them, particularly in bringing down their community's fire insurance premiums, Angela Gill said.

"Once they get it, though, they run into a wall," she said. "It's not that they don't get the training they need. It's just that there is a lot more to know about CAFS than how to operate it."

Good CAFS begins with good maintenance of the pump and using the right foam and related equipment, Gill said. The first day of the four-day symposium is dedicated to that. Only after covering maintenance does the symposium turn to the science and training of CAFS.

"We have three days of different lectures, roundtable discussions, and then one full day of hands-on evolutions on a fire field where certified fire fighters actually go into a burn building and use CAFS," Gill said. "At a different location, participants get to test out CAFS products from three or four different manufacturers."

"We really want it to be about education too," Gill said. "Even though we might sell someone else's truck as a result, we invite all other fire apparatus companies because we don't want it to be about competition." Every attendee receives a workbook with a cover letter written by John B. Gill.

"Yes, the symposium is also a sales presentation on CAFS," Gill wrote. "The fire professionals intend to sell you on the concept and fire advantages of compressed air foam systems."

The symposium is divided into three different tracts -- basic, intermediate and chief level.

"Basic level is for people in their first year with CAFS," Gill said. "That doesn't mean it is the same thing every year. We try to incorporate something new every year into every tract."

The intermediate tract is for people who know the basics and are ready to take it to the next level, she said. The chief level tract covers such advanced topics as how to buy CAFS units and how to build a CAFS truck.

"To us it is a very personal thing," Gill said. "The people we invite to speak are people we know are using these systems and that we work with throughout the year."

Mark Cummins of Joshua, TX-based CAFS Co. is regarded by many as the father of modern CAFS. Events such as the Gill symposium have been important in the continued development of these systems, he said.

"CAFS is a very important contribution to the fire service, but there needs to be new training, new awareness," Cummins said. "There needs to be proper information presented about how to use CAFS."

For years, the fire service, pushed by apparatus manufacturers, has moved toward delivering the largest possible volume of water to the fire, he said. This runs counter to the philosophy that supports CAFS.

"It's reached a point now that the impact of the large water systems is actually affecting the environment via the toxic pollution spread by the runoff," Cummins said. By contrast, CAFS requires little water flow to generate its rich, thick foam.

"When you fight a structure fire using compressed air foam systems, all the water that is used stays in the structure," he said. "All your contamination is in one spot rather than flooding down the street."

CAFS is already making a substantial contribution to bringing down insurance rates. Because CAFS uses nearly 20 times less water than conventional fire fighting, it has extended the quality of fire protection to rural areas beyond the reach of municipal water systems, Cummins said.

"In Texas, they passed a law that allows any community that uses CAFS for initial attack to have the same insurance discount as having a fire hydrant within 1,000 feet of your structure."

For more information about the John B. Gill CAFS Symposium, contact Angela Gill at (281) 391-0588 or e-mail her at For program details, visit


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