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Haz Mat "Specialist Course"

National Foam

Pictures accompanying this article can be found right here, and always check out the "Pictures from the Field" link up top when a new article is posted, there will usually be a corresponding picture set.

     One of the most under used and under appreciated tools for hazardous materials mitigation work is FOAM. One of the best products I have used is from the company called National Foam. I had the distinct pleasure of attending their class and becoming a National Foam Industrial Instructor many years ago. These people specialize in FOAM and all things connected to firefighting foam. They are staffed by area firefighters which makes them the horses’ mouth as far as interfacing with all fire departments. With this type of liaison, whenever you have a question regarding the implications of their product, you never have to deal with a salesman. You are dealing with a fireman. This prevents miscommunication and gets you the customer the correct answer the first time. National Foam has received awards from the federal government regarding all the saved lives it was responsible for aboard Navy ships during WWII. In addition, all appliances for National Foam are fabricated on site by many of these same firefighters. National Foam also builds Foam Firefighting apparatus for Oil field firefighters around the globe. This is definitely a top drawer organization. One particular product I am very fond of is “Universal Gold”.

     In the beginning days of hazardous materials vapor suppression, Foam for haz-mat use was a sloppy affair, had clogging issues in the field and generally was so difficult to use that it was placed on the back shelf of most firefighting operations. With the domestic increase in terrorist activities in our country vapor suppression has risen into high concern within our list of needs. Vapor suppression of any contaminant released by accident or on purpose accomplishes two goals for the firefighter:

  1. By stopping the evolution of vapors from a release, large scale evacuation procedures along with non-existent man-power to carry out those procedures is not needed. Think of your department and just imagine the amount of planning, man-power and equipment that you would need just to evacuate one senior citizen home in your town. “It isn’t going to happen” we do not like to hear this, but we all know this is the truth. In place sheltering is fine, as long as those senior citizen buildings can be self-sufficient and sealed from the outside for an extended time period. Most will never be, and are not now. Complete and rapid vapor suppression of an area spill or deliberate release completely eliminates exposure to nearby citizens.

  2. Confinement of these vapors along with product confinement gives the fire department command time to adapt. Very few of us have resources immediately at our disposal. By having the time to deploy these contractor resources we can save lives.

     National Foam replaced the difficult challenges of early “mixed foam” with Universal Gold. The stats on this particular product are stunning. As you will see in the following photographs, Environmental usage is as impressive as its vapor suppression capabilities. For any of your Foam needs, contact these people. There are many issues regarding Foam and its’ use, but in firefighting mode I have found the greatest challenge to be application. There are three main areas that are critical for a successful outcome:

  1. volume onsite
  2. air aspiration
  3. application rate

These three are the most important if you want to save lives and minimize destruction at your site.


     Due to the concept of “¼ drain time” you must be able to calculate the total gallons of Foam you will need, and have it onsite before Foam application operations begin. This is due to the “1/4 drain time” concept of the Foam bubble breaking down and returning to its liquid form. If you cannot replace and increase Finished Foam faster than it drains, you will not be able suppress the fire vapors. The result will be that the Foam “burns back” faster than you can apply it and cool or smother the surface, resulting in a continuation of the fire, or continuation of vaporization of hazardous air pollutants.

     To get the best performance out of your Foam, ALL nozzles must be air aspirating. The aspiration of air into the Foam solution directed from your hand-line is what produces finished Foam of the highest quality. If you view the Tanker Fire on I-75 in Hazel Park, Michigan on July 15th, {of which I will have pictures and video up soon} this is exactly why I remained on this scene from 2022 until 0330 the next morning. We had major problems delivering this volume of Foam.

     The application rate is another critical factor that must be taken into consideration. Unless you can deliver the volume of Foam required for the size area of the fire, at the proper speed, you will revert to the same end as the “1/4 drain time” scenario. The Foam applied will not be able to overtake the burning rate and extinguishment will be unsuccessful. In your operations, be sure you can implement these three concepts before attacking a flammable liquid fire. The accompanying photos from National Foams Training Program highlight these concepts and other interesting points.

Haz-Mat Mike


DEA Photographs

     One of my many Haz-Mat related contract jobs dealt with hazardous material mitigation on methamphetamine drug lab crime scenes. Photos were allowed by the DEA {Drug Enforcement Administration} as long as they revealed no officers or locations of this type of activity. It was regrettable that this contract ended, as they are a great bunch of guys to work with and always worked in a professional manner. See the Pictures from the Field page for images related to the following, and check back often for more photo sets.

     The work itself utilized a “type” of Haz-Cat “Kit” for initial analysis that was adapted by us for the common contaminants involved. A condensed “Kit” for all known hazards you are most likely to come up against is very useful in day to day operations. While there were a few situations that required additional analysis, the condensed version was enough to complete the job successfully.  Battery operated air monitoring devices are generally problematic in field use, unless you have a good maintenance team behind the scenes. We did not, so the simpler test strips type tools worked well for us.

     Due to the self-sufficient nature of our response, we had almost no option to replenish SCBA, so the mode of dress consisted of level “B” with the appropriate APR being worn for respiratory protection. The only safety concern we had with this operation was that it was originally set on the interior of these site structures. We adjusted the operation to APR’s by simply asking the DEA to place our hazardous waste on the exterior of the structure. This worked well to resolve the SCBA/APR issue. Remember, if you respond to this type of site, there may not be enough air inside the sites interior to filter through the APR!

     In response to one of these scenes, known by you or not, you can appreciate the size of the incident usually being smaller in nature to most hazardous materials accidents. If your group decides to accept the “level of service” to mitigate this type of event, you can actually succeed with minimal stores of equipment. Due to the nature of these contaminants usually being smaller sized, a few 5 gallon over-packs are all that is necessary to complete the task. In most cases the most problematic issue is with Anhydrous Ammonia mitigation. Here you will probably need at least one 55 gallon over-pack to complete an operation known as “sparging”. See my other postings regarding Anhydrous Ammonia.

     “Sparging” is a technique in which the responder, properly attired, usually level “B” or higher chemically transforms Anhydrous Ammonia into Ammonium Hydroxide. This is accomplished by inverting the container holding the Anhydrous and submerging it in a larger container holding water. The responder then opens the valve of the container releasing the anhydrous ammonia into the water. Some type of 55 gallon drum is the most useful water container to use. What occurs next is the evolution of heat; you will feel the temperature of the water increase, but only slightly, not enough to cause any hazard to the responder. Also you will hear a slightly loud deep rumbling sound coming from the reaction of the water being mixed with the Anhydrous Ammonia and transforming it into the resulting Ammonium Hydroxide. Once the reaction is complete, the rumbling ends. The resulting Ammonium Hydroxide and water mixture will smell like strong ammonia cleaner. Also, you will see flakes in the water solution from the reaction, this is normal.

     The need to haul away the derivative from "sparging", Ammonium Hydroxide, is not necessary as this product can be “washed down” and will not harm waste water treatment operations in a major City. However, if you are operating in a small town or an area with “well” water this may not be true, due to environmental concerns. Always check with local water authorities before conducting this type of operation.

     Words of caution, NEVER, NEVER, trust labels on any of these types of scenes! Always test with whatever “Haz-Kat Type” kit your team decides it will use. Remember, these are criminal scenes, and criminals are not exactly the type of people that will comply with DOT labeling information. Two of the lessons learned for me were, 1] you will be shocked at the volume, toxicity, and type of chemicals that can be securely held in a 1 gallon milk jug! 2] I really had to give these guys credit for the lab apparatus they improvised. Very little of it was acceptable lab ware, but when you do not have money for expensive equipment, you will be amazed at what you can create with duct tape and clothesline!

                                                        Haz-Mat Mike



Mike hopes this will become the place for both those new and experienced in the field to come with questions and stories to share. A real starting point for anyone dealing with hazardous matierals to find their answers and discuss things informally.

Check back soon for the real content!

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