While the introduction of a new plane, ship, or tank will often make headlines, these aren’t the only important procurements done by the military. In fact, many crucial upgrades go unnoticed by the media, but they make a huge difference in the lives of troops.
Such was the case with the Air Force’s new firefighting foam. You might think that water is the best tool for putting out fires. Well, in some cases, using water can do more harm than good. That’s why, especially with aircraft, the military likes to use Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF, which has just been replaced with a newer version.
It wasn’t that the old foam was ineffective — far from it. The problem was that the foam came with some serious drawbacks. Most notably, the old foam was quote toxic, both to personnel and to the environment. The old version of AFFF made use of two chemicals, known as PFOS and PFOA. Both of these were unsafe for consumption in even the tiniest amounts (measured in parts per trillion).
Sometimes, it’s a bad idea to put water on a fire — which led to the development of specialized firefighting foam.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III)
The toxicity of the old foam was such that even after testing in a hangar, the Air Force was spending time and money doing hazardous materials mitigation. In a day and age when each defense dollar is precious, spending time and money on HAZMAT stuff after each practice run is a huge drain.
Tech. Sgt. Brian Virden and Master Sgt. Bryan Riddell, replace legacy firefighting foam at King Salmon Air Station, Alaska, with Phos-Chek 3 percent, a C6-based Aqueous Film Forming Foam. The new foam has far fewer toxins than the older foam.
The new foam, now completely rolled out, doesn’t have any PFOS and very little PFOA. This means that the costly mitigation process is sidestepped almost entirely. Plus, in the event of a real usage, the airmen will be exposed to a much lower level of toxins — which saves lives down the line.
Not having to do HAZMAT clean-up after tests like this can save time and money – both of which are factors in readiness.
(U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. William Powell)
In short, the introduction of the new AFFF didn’t generate headlines, but it is the type of small, behind-the-scenes move that enhances readiness across the service. A few small savings here, less time consumed there — you’d be surprised at how much a seemingly small change can improve the entire force.