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Foams Effectiveness in Fighting with Aircraft Crash Fires

There are many aircraft crashes, which occur in many parts of the world. The crashes often result in large fires which if not contained lead to massive loss of property and human life. Airport managers worldwide make sure that they put in place the most effective mechanisms of fire fighting techniques to contain any fire resulting from aircraft crashes and related fires in the airports as well as in their vicinity.

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Aircraft fire fighters equipped with the most convenient fire fighting machinery and fire-extinguishing agents are located in various places, including at fire stations, airports, airdromes, and even on board. The most common and effective agent used to fight aircraft fires in aircraft crashes is foam. The foams are manufactured from various chemicals some of which have raised environmental concerns, especially fluorosurfactants. This paper gives a review and critique of Cortina’s article, Aircraft rescue and firefighting requires the best foam available: AFFF.

In this article, Cortina addresses the issue of using fluorine containing foams and the controversy revolving around its hazardous effect on the environment. He mentions a case in which an international airport management decided to shift into the use foam with no fluorine in order to meet the requirements of their local environmental management body. These fluorine free foams are less effective especially in fighting large aircraft crash fires. Large amounts of these foams are needed to put off a fire than can be needed of fluorinated foams such as aqueous film forming foams (Cortina, 2009).

The fluorosurfactants, which makes foams more effective in crash rescue firefighting, release toxic substances to the environment thus raising concern from environmentalists. Cortina argues that Fluorosurfactants are an important component in effective firefighting foams. This component especially in “aqueous film forming foams (AFFF), are the most effective agents currently available to fight class B flammable liquid fires at airports and military, industrial and municipal settings” (Cortina, 2009, para.2). Class B fires are those resulting from combustion of flammable fluids such as jet fuels, gasoline, paints and petroleum products. The AFFF have a property of forming a film, which it spreads over light hydrocarbon fuels.

The process used in the manufacture of AFFF determines the level of toxicity it releases to the environment. Fluorosurfactants disintegrate forming perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which are toxic. However, manufacture of AFFF using telomerization produces products called telomers, which are of low toxicity. Due to the effects of PFOS on the environment, foam manufacturers have endeavored to come up with AFFF products devoid of fluorosurfactants but have not succeeded. However, there are fluorine free foams that are used as AFFF substitutes though not as effective as AFFF. Environmentalists advocate for the use of such fluorine free foams as fire fighting agents.

Cortina also addresses the issues of environmental and firefighter safety when handling foam in aircraft rescue fire fighting. In doing this, he considers the differences in the volume requirements of fluorinated AFFF and non-fluorinated foams as well as agent release mechanisms and equipment needed. In the case of non-fluorinated foams, they require large amounts of agent and air aspiration, which poses a danger to the user. The fluorinated foams are required in small amounts and in non-aspirated conditions, which provides advantage in terms of fire extinguishing capacity as well as in safety of the firefighter. In environmental health issues, Cortina concluded that the fluorosurfactants used in the manufacture of foams have insignificant environmental intoxication.

The article is important to the fire fighting community in that it compares the advantages and efficiency of using the different types of foams. Through this article, the fire fighters and fire service providers can know the advantages and risks involved in use of various forms of foams. Even though surfactants have some environmental intoxication properties, they are effective in putting off fires from flammable substances, an issue which is of interest to rescuers in aircraft crash fires.

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The major problem addressed in the paper is the efficiency in fire fighting during rescue missions in comparison with environmental health standards. Aircraft crash fires spread rapidly and therefore require faster methods of confinement in order to rescue those on board and avert property loss. Different methods are applied to carry out these operations and in these methods, various agents are used. Foams, which are the most effective, require use of surfactants but which also pose environmental degradation threats.

One side of the discussion in the paper is the justification of the use fluorosurfactants in carrying out rescue services during aircraft crash operations. The ultimate goal of such rescue services is to save human life and prevent further damage to aircrafts and property as much as possible. Cortina argues that the frequency of aircraft crashes in runways around the world is low at any specific airport and thus the use of surfactants will not cause extensive contamination of ground water. The other side of the discussion is environmental health.

Cortina agrees with environmental managers that the use of surfactant foams in extinguishing fires in airports and aerodromes pose some environmental danger. The continued use of these agents poses danger of environmental degradation and ground water contamination. To reduce these effects, most fire fighting departments in airports have shifted from the use of electrochemical fluorinatated AFFF to fluorotelomer based AFFF agents, which do not disintegrate to form PFOS responsible for environmental intoxication (Cortina and Korzeniowski, 2008).

In conclusion, aircraft crash fires are common worldwide and rescuers need the use of the most effective agents and equipment to put off these fires. Environmental health issues are of concern when using various forms of fire extinguishing agents and thus governments through their environmental management authorities have set standards to regulate the use of environmentally harmful products. The safety of the fire fighter is also important and thus the fire fighting departments ensure that the equipment and the agents they use meet the fire fighters safety requirements.

The fact that the major aim of fire fighters and aircraft crash rescuers is to save lives and prevent damage is not an excuse to make them blind to the harmful effects the agents used can have to the environment. This is why many international airport fire-fighting departments have committed to the use agents and equipment that meet international standards in their rescue missions. Research scientists are also striving to come up with agents that have the least possible environmental degradation effects. Currently, the most effective agents used in aircraft crash rescue missions are fluorotelomer based aqueous film forming foams. The efficiency of aircraft rescue and fire fighting requires the use of new technology in the equipment and agents used (Wright, n.d).

Reference List

Cortina, T. & Korzeniowski, S. (2008, June). AFFF industry in position to exceed environmental goals. The Fire Fighting Foam Coalition (FFFC). Web.

Cortina, T. (2009, June). Aircraft rescue and firefighting requires the best foam available: AFFF. MDM Publishing Ltd. Web.

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Wright, J. A. (n.d). Aircraft rescue and fire fighting efficiengy relates to the use of new technology. ARFF Technical Services, Inc. Web.

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