The use of foam for putting out fires has been available to fire services for several decades. However, as we consult on our Environmental Sustainability Plan 2021 – 2024, it raises questions of when and how it is used at incidents.
At Humberside Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) we made the progressive decision in 2011 to only use fluorine free foam instead of its more harmful alternative, fluorinated foam, which is being phased out in the UK and EU due to its persistent pollution properties.
At HFRS we rarely use foam for incidents and before its use, we are in contact with partner agencies, such as Environment Agency and Water Companies to make sure we minimise the impact to the environment and avoid unmanaged run off into nearby waterways and drains.
When we needed to use foam at incidents, such as at the plastics factory fire in Hessle in November 2021, we used specialist equipment from our Environmental and Decontamination Unit to have the foam onsite. This equipment is approved and supplied by the Environment Agency and includes items such as poly booms and drain blockers that prevent the foam from running off into areas it shouldn’t, such as waterways. At this incident, the decision to use foam was made as a rapid extinguishment was required due to concerns over the smoke plume.
The scale of the fire meant we used our drone with its thermal camera to target areas to cover with foam which dramatically reduced the large plume of smoke and suppressed the fire. This also meant we didn’t waste any foam in its application. In this example, if we hadn’t made the decision to use foam, the fire would have continued for much longer, using more resources and increasing the risk of endangerment to life and disruption to the local infrastructure.
We have now replaced our bulk foam stocks that were used in Hessle. The foam we use has been specifically sourced as it is one of the least environmentally damaging products on the market. Any future use will only be in the most severe and exceptional circumstances. The decision to use it will be balanced against the risk to life and property if we do not and will always be in consultation with relevant partner agencies such as the Environment agency.
Our consultation on our Environmental Sustainability Plan 2021 – 2024 closes Friday 18 February 2022. To find out more and to take part, please click here.