Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
10 fluoro-free years
Published:  01 January, 2009

For the fire protection and fire prevention industries, the last decade has certainly witnessed some major events and change that will impact on these business sectors for the next decade to come. Here are just a few of the events that have introduced change in ABC MacIntosh since 1999 and all of the following have caused our business to pause and assess the implications for future development.

The introduction of the UK’s National Framework Agreements through Firebuy, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the largest oil storage fire in Europe since the Second World War at the Buncefield oil terminal in December 2005, the decision by 3M in 2002 to halt the manufacturing of PFOS-based firefighting foam concentrates, the Groundwater Regulation 1998, the current alterations being proposed to BS 5306 part 3 and part 8 for extinguishers (the third amendment in ten years) are just a few. Not least of course, today’s economic downturn being experienced not just in the UK but all over the world, and how ABC MacIntosh can best avoid the worst effects of this slowdown on our business.

Going back to 1999, ABC needed to find an identity, a vision and a plan for the business that would be sustainable in future years. It was clear, even at that time that the continued use of fluorinated foam concentrates in all industries were being assessed due to the environmental persistence of these fluorinated foam products. There were alternatives being used outside the UK in no small measure and with particular emphasis in France, Germany and Sweden, with new formulations being developed that would provide replacements for these fluorosurfactant foams such as AFFF-AR and FFFP-AR foams.

So from the very beginning, ABC had a focus and a firm direction to follow. ABC MacIntosh would be the first company in the UK to promote and develop the use of fluoro-free foams to end users, organisations who would benefit most from the use of these foams and our commitment to that aim was first seen on our web site in 1999. The UK Fire and Rescue Service were the main concern due to their dispersive application with few options to contain foam during or following application. The Petrochemical and Chemical Industries would also benefit longer term, as these facilities held the largest quantities of bulk foam in the UK. Although these facilities would have both primary and secondary bund areas for containment of fire water, as the Buncefield incident would later prove, a concrete bund can fail under intense heat. This would then lead to fire water and foam leaching from the site and contaminating ground water.

In the past ten years ABC MacIntosh has never sold fluorinated foams to the UK Fire Service for direct dispersive application and are proud to have maintained our own commitment to one of our main initial aims as a business.

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service was the first of the UK brigades to take the first important steps to a fluoro-free foam strategy. Following extensive evaluation in 2001 of both foam and a foam delivery system, the senior officers of this Fire Service had concluded that this was the only sustainable future for the use of foams and wetting agents, and began the process of changing foam concentrates on all new-build vehicles.

Mid and West Wales will always be able to reflect in the years ahead that they took the lead for so many of their fellow brigades to make the same sustainable steps with confidence. More importantly, this choice by Mid and West Wales Fire Service was made before the fire at Buncefield, and it is the outcome of that particular foam pollution that has concentrated the thinking around alternative foam strategies for fire services generally.

Every fire service and industry foam user is planning or re-evaluating its foam strategies for the future, and some will no doubt remain with fluorinated foam. However, today it has been proven beyond any doubt that there are fluoro-free foam options that are now equal to or in some cases better in performance than the AFFF-ARs and FFFP-ARs when tested under the oil industry’s own Lastfire test protocol (see page 16).

In this current environment of financial pressure and uncertainty, the cost of foam will always be of prime importance and fluoro-free foams will always be less expensive because they do not contain the very expensive fluorosurfactant products in their formulations. So the end users, whoever they may be, need to ask a very simple question.

“If a foam concentrate is equal in performance, not persistent in the environment and costs much less than other alcohol resistant foamss, are we planning to change at the very next opportunity?”

And if not, why not?

The next ten years.

ABC MacIntosh is already established as one of the 16 companies on the UK’s national procurement Firebuy framework agreement for Emergency Response Equipment, with our FAS Fire Attack System for high and low pressure water/foam delivery units for small 4X4 vehicles, manufactured at our Corby site, and the CTD Cameleon foam induction equipment for main line appliances. Both the FAS and Cameleon systems use the best technology available for the most efficient use of both water and foam. Both pieces of equipment provide the best environmental option and efficiency for both water and foam delivery.

The beginning of our next decade in business will be very challenging economically but as a company we made the right choices ten years ago with our commitment to develop a fluoro-free option for the fire service and industry alike. Fluoro-free foams are now established as real alternatives in the market place for general applications and we feel sure that these new generation foams will form part of future framework agreements through Firebuy for the fire service, due sometime in 2009.

Film forming foams will still have a valuable role to play in maintaining extinguishing performance in foam extinguishers for the foreseeable future, due largely to the very limited amount of liquid that can be held in an extinguisher body. A large part of our current and future business is in high performance foams for extinguisher manufacturers and the servicing industry. However, the extinguisher product that has grown quickest in terms of volume in the past five years has been Pentspray. This is a Class A water additive that is not film forming. It is fluoro-free and completely bio-degradable and is designed to replace foam where foam extinguishers are not required because there is no Class B risk. Hotels, offices, hospitals and schools are obvious examples.

The one thing that has not changed for this business in ten years is our commitment to fluoro-free foam and water additive products and it remains the right choice in every sense for our next decade in business.