Saving Homes  With CAFS
March 17, 2006

Little Compton pays some of the highest premiums for Fire Insurance that can be assessed. This is because our "ISO rating" is 9 on a scale of 1-10.  Most homeowners insurance policies will clearly show this rating. ISO stands for "Insurance Services Offices, Inc." It is the rating agency that is used by insurance companies determine what to charge for homeowners insurance.

ISO inspects Fire Departments to evaluate their ability to respond to and put out fires. 40% of the rating is based upon the availability of fire hydrants (Little Compton has none). 10% is associated with the ability to receive and respond to fire calls (we're OK here). The remaining 50% is based on the operational capability of the Fire Department which considers such things as fire apparatus, manpower, training, fire prevention, record keeping, fire loss experience, and public education programs.  In this category, we don't fail, but we don't do that well either.  Taken all together, our score results in an ISO rating of 9 and high insurance premiums.

There is a new revolutionary fire suppression technology that can vastly improve our ability to fight fires with very limited water and manpower. The Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) was originally developed to deal with wildfires near residential areas in the west. Using a mixture of foam, air, and water, one can create ten gallons of foam solution with just one gallon of water. Compressed air foam makes water work from 5 to 30 times better than water alone in suppressing fires, depending on surface and fuel contributing to combustion. Because it puts out a fire so quickly, it uses much less water resulting in less structural water damage.

One of our fire trucks retrofitted with CAFS along with two firefighters can potentially knock out a typical house fire that is fully involved in a matter of minutes. This translates into minimal damage and a great deal more safety for firefighters themselves.

CAFS is currently being looked at by the Fire Department and the Town Council.  Our cost would be approximately $40,000 with the possibility of grant money to help pay. If CAFS is taken into account, insurance companies may lower our rates.  Our local Representative, John Loughlin, is preparing legislation that would require insurance companies to take CAFS into account. 

Given the water supply problems and operational limitations in the Little Compton Fire Department, CAFS could be a welcome addition to our fire fighting arsenal.  It could result in lowered insurance rates, less damage to property, and greater peace of mind for our citizens.


On March 13, 2006, Roger Lord (Secretary/Treasurer) sent the following email Town Council:


To The Town Council.




On March 4, 2006, three members of the Taxpayers Association Board of Directors traveled to the Exeter Volunteer Fire Department, and the Cumberland Fire Department to discuss their Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS) used for fighting fires, especially structural fires.  The travelers were Robert Hayden, Kevin Healey, and myself, Roger Lord.  Our hosts were Fire Chief Robert Franklin of Exeter, and Lieutenant Paul Berry of Cumberland.


The purpose of our trip was to explore those two towns' employment of CAFS and how it compares with standard methods such as water.


Both towns, like Little Compton, have areas of limited water supply - Exeter in particular.  Cumberland has hydrants in some areas of the town.  Exeter has three CAFS systems and will specify all future trucks to have CAFS. Cumberland has two CAFS systems.


To sum up the meeting in just a few words: Both towns use CAFS as a first strike on most fires.  The fires go out quickly and do not re-ignite. 


Exeter's Fire Chief does not recall the last time they actually used their tankers since CAFS usually does the job.  Exeter uses joy stick controlled CAFS nozzles on the front bumpers of their trucks.  Being an all volunteer fire department (55 members), fire fighters show up at the scene of the fire piecemeal.  But the driver of the fire truck and a fireman often times get there first and use the joy stick controlled nozzle to put out the fire sometimes even before the others show up - without ever leaving the truck site or hauling hose out to the fire!


We asked Chief Franklin why they had decided to employ CAFS as their front line of attack for all fire calls. He stated that CAFS has a much greater ability to provide a quick knockdown of structure and motor vehicle fires. He said that they can knock down a large working structure fire in just a few minutes using a very small amount of foaming agent. Chief Franklin provided a lot of anecdotal information of fire experiences. There have been several incidents where they responded on mutual aid calls in which were being attacked by the first responding crews with plain water. As soon a CAFS was brought to bear, they were able to provide immediate knock-down with very little agent.  Since employing CAFS they have never been required to use their tanker/tender to resupply the pumper. He said that he has been tempted to take the tanker out of service but he thought the “a few eyebrows might have been raised” if he did.


Both the fire chief and the lieutenant spoke of the advantages of CAFS and how it provides better working conditions for the fire fighters - mostly in the area of crew safety.  The hoses are much lighter weight because of the foam bubbles inside the hose and, therefore, much easier to maneuver.  They typically use 1-3/4 inch hose.  If the fire fighters need to move upstairs in a building, they call back to the truck and have them pump air only into the hose.  This takes all the water/foam out of the hose and makes it much lighter to haul around.


Both the fire chief and the lieutenant recalled some amazing situations where CAFS proved to be the superior method for putting out fires in homes and cars.  Lt. Berry was kind enough to drive one of their trucks to the back of the fire station and demonstrate CAFS.  I have included some pictures that I took of that demonstration.  Noteworthy was the fact that the water/foam mixture sticks to what it hits.  This has the effect of suppressing the fire itself as well as providing a path for heat to be reduced.  That, coupled with the fact that Class A foam penetrates, keeps the fire out.  In fact, when they train on a live burn, they intentionally use only a little of the water/foam for training as they would not be able to re-ignite the fire for more training otherwise.  After what appeared to be a lengthy demonstration with virtually everything in sight coated in foam, they told us they had used only 200 gallons of water and a little over a half gallon of foam!


It is interesting to note that Lt. Berry in Cumberland was somewhat skeptical about using CAFS in the beginning.  But after actually using it a few times, they have now re-written their SOP for putting out fires by specifically that CAFS is deployed as the 1st strike for virtually any fire.  When asked why he was skeptical, he pondered a moment and said, "Because I'm a fireman and was used to using water over the years."


Exeter is in the process of requesting a new ISO evaluation.  They fully expect their ISO rating to drop from 9 to 7.  That is something that Little Compton should shoot for.  A backfit of CAFS on our trucks is approximately $35K per truck.  Since the trucks already have Class A foam, the backfit consists of a compressor tied into the truck's transmission, and a control panel addition.


Seeing is believing!  I strongly urge the Town Council and our Fire Chief to make an honest effort to talk to the two fire fighters that we talked to.  They pledged their support for any of us that have curiosity or questions.  I for one would like to feel that a fire in my home will not result in a total loss or suffer major water damage as that can be avoided by using CAFS in Little Compton.  I also wouldn't mind my homeowners insurance premium going down.  To reject this relatively inexpensive and proven alternative would be beyond explanation to me especially after what I heard and saw first hand.




Click on the numbers to see the pictures


--------- Exeter Pictures --------- [ 1 ]   [ 2 ]   [ 3 ]

----- Cumberland Pictures ----- [ 1 ]   [ 2 ]   [ 3 ]   [ 4 ]   [ 5 ]