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    Fort Knox firefighters some of first in Army to replace discontinued fire suppressant foam



    Story by Eric Pilgrim 

    Fort Knox

    FORT KNOX, Ky. — Fort Knox firefighters from Station 3 at Godman Army Airfield have been praised for completing a remarkably smooth transition from the old Department of Defense-standard firefighting foam to one that has received approval for future use.

    Leaders had scheduled three days from Dec. 19-21, 2023 for the firefighters to make the transition of the aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF, to fluorene-free foam, which has been recognized as safe for the environment and equally effective at extinguishing fires.

    “Because it was very well planned and coordinated,” said Kerri Martin, environmental protection specialist from the Directorate of Public Works, “we were actually able to complete this over a series of just two days.”

    According to Army officials, the Defense Department in the 1970s began using AFFF at airfields due to its ability to quickly suffocate petroleum fires. The ingredients in it are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which suffocate oxygen from flames and create an aqueous film on the surface of spilled fuel that prevents it from reigniting.

    A Sept. 6, 2019 article published by the Defense Department explains that firefighters for years have used AFFF at airfields and ships.

    “Anywhere there are large amounts of flammable materials, you need to be able to put out fires rapidly to protect human lives,” writes author Miranda Paley. “DOD uses this firefighting foam because on ships and on aircraft, the close proximity of people, fuel and munitions can be especially dangerous.”

    Paley admits, however, that what makes AFFF so effective can also make it a concern to the environment, especially if it seeps into drinking water systems.

    As a result of those concerns, AFFF has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a substance that requires extra precautionary steps when used. According to a Defense memorandum, firefighters were required to document each incident and ensure any AFFF spills were thoroughly cleaned up afterward.

    Martin said regulations restricted firefighters' use of AFFF, to include for training purposes.

    “It was only for use in emergencies," she said, "and if it was used, we had to report it and treat it as a spill to mitigate any concern."

    Fort Knox is one of a handful of installations identified to begin the process of switching from AFFF to fluorene-free foam. It became the fourth to make the transition, which leaders observed for future transitions.

    About 600 gallons of AFFF were siphoned off in total by the firefighters and removed by a contractor, who also delivered the new fluorene-free foam to them. Part of the delivery included a stockpile that firefighters keep around to refill their trucks in the unlikely event of a fire.

    “We were able to get rid of that old AFFF that we can’t use anymore,” said Martin. “It was really a good win-win that we were able to do that and prevent any PFAS being released into the environment.”

    Martin said the firefighters were not the only agency involved in the transition. Members of the Hazardous Waste Program and Qualified Recycle Program were also involved.

    After firefighters collected the AFFF from the fire engine into an [intermediate bulk container] tote, they then rinsed out the engine’s containment tank several times until all traces of the AFFF were gone. Once the tank was clean, the new foam, commonly called F3, was pumped in.

    “All of this was set up with spill prevention in mind,” said Martin. “They had secondary containment tubs under the IBC totes to capture spills if any occurred. We went through some totes.”

    Martin said there is some AFFF still remaining at Godman under a separate contract. It will be removed at a later date.

    For now, the Army will continue to change out the foam across other installations, armed with experience from the Fort Knox transition.

    “This was a learning experience for the contractor because we were the largest installation they had done thus far,” said Martin. “They also have some good lessons learned that they can take onto larger installations.”



    Date Taken: 02.06.2024
    Date Posted: 02.09.2024 13:25
    Story ID: 463591
    Location: FORT KNOX, KY, US

    Web Views: 30
    Downloads: 0