Pictured: Orlando Canales tests the Alice Fire Department's new CAFS system. The firemen went through training on the new truck Wednesday. MAURICO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

Fire fighters train on new foam truck

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

A dozen officers from the Alice Fire Department took turns spraying thick white foam down Almond Street, as a practice run for the real thing.

"This isn't something we normally use, but it's amazing how much faster it is than the regular water," said firefighter Orlando Canales during foam training Wednesday afternoon.

Unlike water, the foam takes less pressure to operate.

"We're just getting used to the new truck and the different nozzles, but in the end it still does the same thing as water, putting the fire out. It's definitely easier to maneuver," Canales said.

The new brush fire fighting unit utilizes a Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) and was purchased last week from Emergency Vehicles of Texas in San Antonio for $98,000.

Lieutenants Patricio Canales, Sherman Miller and J.R. Gonzales participated in three days of formal training last week, while the other officers experienced hands-on training this week with John Gill, a sales representative from the company.

"We're able to be much more effective and put fires out faster with this unit," Lt. Canales said. "There was a dumpster fire recently in San Antonio, and it normally would've taken two to three hours to put it out, but they were able to extinguish it in 15 to 20 minutes using the CAFS system."

CAFS introduces air, foam and water together through the hose, and the stream can be adjusted to make the foam wetter or drier, in order to more readily stick to surfaces.

The foam, called Phos-Check, has been used for several years by departments across the nation, including departments fighting forest fires in the west.

The department will be using the truck for grassfires, but it is also capable of handling vehicle, commercial and residential fires, as well, Canales said. The bubbles in the foam also diminish heat and collect carbon in the air, which increases visibility while fighting fires by diminishing smoke.

Gill said firefighters are always surprised at how effective the system is.

"They can spend now half an hour to put out a fire, when before it might take several. It's just as reliable as a pump unit," he said.

The foam is both biodegradable and nontoxic, Gill said, and it is currently in use in 250 departments across the state, including Kingsville, Falfurrias and Corpus Christi.

"Some departments even have demonstration parties where once a year they spray the foam and let their own children play in it, to show the public. That's what's so great about this system, it's very effective and it won't harm the environment," Gill said.