Our Transition to Fluorine-Free Foam

Randy Krause

The Port of Seattle Fire Department continues on a five-year journey to find the safest, most efficient aircraft firefighting foam (AFFF) replacement and make Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA) one of the first U.S. airports to complete the steps for the transition after federal approval.   

In 2018, it was obvious the FAA would be identifying a new fluorine-free foam formulation to replace MIL-Spec Fluorine based AFFF. Immediately, our airport leadership was supportive and together we engaged the FAA, Department of Defense, foam manufacturers, environmental entities and elected officials to make sure we were on top of any developments. That outreach allowed us to understand that this was going to be a complex and time-consuming endeavor. 

Randy Krause, is fire chief of the Port of Seattle Fire Department.

There have been a lot of great people and many successes along the way that have allowed the industry to make progress on this challenging issue. Where are we? Today, we as an industry are expecting that U.S. airports will soon have the opportunity to select from a list of approved fluorine-free foam products—possibly in September. What I want to share is not the details of our five-year journey, but what airport fire chiefs, aviation executives and airport environmental teams should be thinking about and preparing for as the day nears for fluorine-free products to be available.

The fire department leadership and the airport environmental team need to be in shoulder-to-shoulder partnership to set your airport up for a successful transition. As a fire chief, I could not do this without my environmental team. It is not just as simple as draining out the old foam and putting in the new foam. I am going to specifically address the ARFF truck transition, but you all must realize that hangars, fuel farms and other locations will also need to be converted for a complete transition.  

ARFF truck cleaning has been a topic of discussion within the industry. I have concluded that once we drain trucks of the AFFF product, it will take more than rinsing the tanks and piping to remove as much residual AFFF as possible. From the beginning, we have been interested in a technology that can clean the trucks better than just a water rinse, but at the same time help reduce the amount of waste we will have to dispose of off-site. 

As an airport, you will have many options. But deciding what to do with the drained raw product and waste must be the highest of priorities. We plan to store our raw AFFF product and work with the Washington State Department of Ecology on disposal at some point in the future. 

After identifying a cleaning methodology and devising a strategy to manage waste, the next step will be to identify a fluorine-free foam product that is currently undergoing testing for FAA approval. Once a cleaning technology, waste handling strategy and new fluorine-free foam product are identified, you can then assess costs for the eventual transition. 

The next step along the way is to secure funding for the transition. The fire department and the environmental team at SEA made a presentation to our aviation executive and secured funds to allow us to transition at the first opportunity. 

After funds are secured, identify with your procurement team. At the Port of Seattle, we must use a competitive process for our purchases and have recently put out two requests for proposals—one for cleaning and one for new fluorine-free products. 

Of course, this is a simplified version of the overall work and process. Each airport is sure to experience a unique set of circumstances. If you have any questions, we here at SEA would be more than happy to assist in any way to help you with your planning and preparation for the transition to new fluorine-free foam products.

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