San Antonio Fire Department uses foam to douse WOAI fire

Compressed air foam system more versatile than water, reduces water damage

When San Antonio firefighters arrived at the WOAI television studios Tuesday morning, they didn't just hook up to a fire hydrant and soak the place with water.

They used compressed air foam -- a mixture of detergent, water and air.

It's just one of the many tools the San Antonio Fire Department has at its disposal.

"The main reason is that it just seems to be more effective at putting out fires," said Assistant Fire Chief Robert Mikel. "The surface area on a bubble absorbs more heat than a solid drop of water."

Mikel said SAFD has had the foam in its tool box since 2007, when the city purchased 19 fire trucks equipped with the Compressed Air Foam System.

The white, sudsy substance is more versatile than water.

"You can adjust the amount of air and water in the mixture, so if you need a dryer foam that sticks to the walls for insulating purposes, you can add more air to it," Mikel said. "If you need a wetter foam that absorbs more heat then you can use the foam with more water in it."

Mikel said the foam does come with an additional cost but it also reduces the amount of water needed to put out a fire which can cut down on the amount of damage left behind.

"When we have 500 gallons in one of these trucks, we can use it a lot more effectively without necessarily having to go get a hydrant," Mikel said.

"If we're using less water, there's less water damage to the structure. We can't do a whole lot about the fire and smoke damage, but by using CAFS foam, we can decrease the amount of water damage."

That appears to be what happened WOAI.

While there was some heavy smoke and fire damage on the second floor of the building, the station reported the actual TV studios and most of the first floor stayed dry.

Even so, there was still a lot of smoke inside and that's one of the reasons why the station broadcast its newscasts from a parking lot Tuesday evening.


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