At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam the firefighting brigade has to be ready to provide at least 7,900 litres of water and foam per minute in order to battle any major fire that breaks out on the property. With six operational runways it’s a big task, and to handle it there are three fire stations on the property.

Arjan Bruinstroop, Operational Manager of the Fire Department at Schiphol Airport, says that the team must be at the scene within three minutes after the alarm rings to put out 90% of a fire within 60 seconds after arrival at the incident. His crew sleeps with their clothes on, grabs their gear and within 45 seconds they are ready to put out any fire.

Fortunately, Bruinstroop’s team doesn’t have to battle active fires that often, but in 2016 the time came for them to update their fleet of firefighting trucks. In addition to modernizing, the airport was also prompted to make a change due to new regulations introduced by the European Union to eliminate the use of C8 and C6 from all firefighting foams.

‘We needed to upgrade to provide sustainable firefighting performance with our trucks. We have the ambition to become the world’s most sustainable hub airport. That being said, we also needed to achieve the same performance we had with our existing foam, and that is why it was so important to select the right SFFF (synthetic fluorine-free foam) for the transition,’ says Bruinstroop.

To get the procurement process started, the team at Schiphol conducted research on the SFFF market to find who the top players were, and then asked providers to discuss the features of the products they offered. Perimeter Solutions and its Re-Healing fluorine-free fighting foam (RF3x6) were quickly selected. RF3x6 foam concentrates are environmentally sustainable fluorosurfactant- and fluoropolymer-free foams that are used to extinguish Class B fuels, developed specifically to replace traditional AFFF and AR-AFFF foam concentrates, like were previously used at Schiphol Airport.

‘There really was only one other company that offered SFFF, but we needed a version of foam that would work with our new line of trucks,’ says Bruinstroop.

Making the transition

Moving from AFFF to SFFF foams did not come without its challenges. The length of time it took to complete the transition was longer than expected.

Schiphol stores 13,000 litres of water and 1,600 litres of foam on each truck, and uses a 6% mixing rate, so that the foam can support two tanks of water.

‘We had purchased the best fire trucks in the world and the best fluorine-free foam. The trucks and the foam work great on their own but getting them to work together effectively takes time. We had to figure out which nozzle was the best to use, the best mixing system to use for the foam. It was a lot of little issues, but we were able to adjust,’ says Bruinstroop.

Schiphol’s firefighters went through a rigorous training process to be ready in case of a fire. Bruinstroop organizes ten training sessions over three days, and each day they use 1,000 litres of foam. These training sessions are essential in educating the team on the capabilities of the foam and how to apply it correctly to put fires out as quickly as possible.

The team was surprised by the high quality of the RF3x6 foam and had to adjust their training to compensate for that. Early on, the firefighters found that when they left their training facility at night, foam was still on site the next morning. They found it challenging to break down the foam, but to Bruinstroop, that demonstrated its stability, and proved that they had selected the right foam.

Bruinstroop says he also wanted to conduct four or five training sessions each day, but they couldn’t reignite the fuel underneath the application again because the foam worked too well, so they had to use different training objects at the training centre.

‘We do this one exercise with the firefighters where they have to put the flames out with the truck as they drive, and then they have to get out of the vehicle while it’s moving and extinguish the fire with the hose. Sometimes, when you are driving the truck and putting the fire out as you drive, you don’t extinguish it all, and it could reignite. But after using the RF3x6 foam, by the time they got off the truck, the foam had already worked and extinguished all the flames – using RF3x6 had made it too easy to put the fire out, making the exercise a lot easier than planned for the crew,’ recalls Bruinstroop.

‘There are huge stakes at the airport if one of our trucks doesn’t perform well – it’s literally a matter of life and death.’ – Arjan Bruinstroop, Operational Manager of the Fire Department at Schiphol Airport.

Lessons learned

After completing the two-year transition, there were some lessons Bruinstroop learned along the way. First, he says it is important to regularly conduct large-scale testing. If that’s not possible where you are located, he says you should find an open place that is easy to clean, with no possibility to harm the environment, to conduct it, so that you can work out all the kinks and learn how SFFF will work most effectively with your equipment. You will also need to measure the performance of the foam, according to your local regulations.

‘There are huge stakes at the airport if one of our trucks doesn’t perform well – it’s literally a matter of life and death. We conduct both large- and small-scale testing, but the large-scale testing ensures that the trucks and foam will be up to the task in the event of a major fire at Schiphol,’ says Bruinstroop.

He also stresses that it’s imperative to work closely and to have an open line of communication with your suppliers, so that everyone can share their own experience and knowledge of the products.

As one of the suppliers in this transition, Perimeter Solutions had to learn the best way to work with Schiphol, and vice-versa. It is not just about delivering product but building a good relationship with each other. Bruinstroop recalls how that played out during Christmas last year:

‘We had a new procurement of 30,000 litres of foam that needed to be delivered before the end of the year. Two days before Christmas, I found out there was no foam coming. Usually, arranging a shipment of that size is tough to do around the holidays, but working with Perimeter Solutions, we were able to get it done, and the training started on time. It wasn’t easy, but by working together and communicating, we were able to make it happen.’

With the project now complete, Bruinstroop and Schiphol Airport are still satisfied with the transition. Bruinstroop’s one hope is that they will only use the trucks and RF3x6 foam in training situations and won’t need to use them for a live incident during his lifetime.

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