The history of fire-extinguishing foam

There are numerous natural phenomena, but fire is without doubt the most fascinating of them all. It is, therefore understandable that this phenomenon has always played a particular role in the life and way of thinking of mankind.

This was even more so during the long period in which there was no scientifically founded explanation for the combustion process, Even as late as the 17th century a "spiritual" material by the name of Phlogiston was held responsible for the gradual evaporation of burning material, It was only in 1777 that the French chemist Lavoisier proved that the combustion process is a fast running chemical reaction between the burning material and the ambient atmospheric oxygen, which is triggered by the ignition temperature.

However, mankind was kept in suspense by the effects of the combustion process even more than its explanation, as even though this "celestial power" had a very beneficial effect on technical progress and thus on civilisation, the catastrophes caused by fire were extremely devastating, Of course all means available at this time were employed to fight fire, but for many years they were restricted to water and sand. This only changed in the 1860s when oil drilling started and industrialization gathered pace.

In view of the particular hazards linked with flammable fluids, at the turn of the 20th century one recalled the patent of the British scientist J.H. Johnsen which had not been used up to then. In 1877, he had already recommended fighting petroleum fires, which were now common, using a chemical foam which was produced by mixing two solutions - sodium hydrogen carbonate and saponine + acidic aluminium sulphate.

This method meant that two separate storage tanks had to be used for both solutions which gave the Austrian engineers I, Stanzing and R. König in 1914 the idea of producing fire extinguishing foam with the help of a powder mixture which is added to water. This "dry system" made fire brigade assignments much easier but proved to be very expensive.

Whilst searching for new raw materials for producing fire extinguishing foam at the beginning of the twenties, one came across water soluble protein products which could be won through the disintegration of organic raw materials such as hoof or horn meal. It was only in the middle of the thirties that it became possible to stabilise the proteins in such a way that a stable "air foam" could be produced. It quickly became evident that this protein foam agent was far superior to the chemical foaming agents known at the time. This was the birth of modern air foam! Added to the flowing water in a low dosage, an effective fire extinguishing low expansion foam could be produced.

During the 1950’s, the first synthetic foam concentrates based an surface active agents gained increasing significance, This also included a patent for the first gel film forming, alcohol resistant foam concentrate in 1953.

The first alcohol resistant protein foam concentrates were developed at the beginning of the sixties, Fluoroprotein foam concentrates followed at the beginning to the middle of the seventies as well as aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) originally developed in the USA. In the eighties and nineties, alcohol resistant AFFF foaming agents were developed from the combination of alcohol resistant, gel film forming foam concentrates with AFFF foam concentrates for universal use. The aqueous film forming protein foam concentrate FFFP was also developed at this time.

New and further development in raw materials as well as improvements in application technology will continue to make it possible to design foam concentrates enabling production of even more effective fire extinguishing foams at significantly reduced induction rates.

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