Madison Fire Department switches to PFAS-free firefighting foam

The Madison Fire Department has replaced its firefighting foam with foams that have shown to be PFAS-free, becoming the first major city in the state to make the change.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of chemicals known as PFAS, have contaminated wells, groundwater and waterways in Madison. Research has linked PFAS health issues such as birth defects, thyroid issues and cancer.

As of Friday, every Madison fire engine switched to the new firefighting foams.

Madison Fire Department switches to PFAS-free firefighting foam

Chief Steven Davis said the change was made after foam used to put out the explosion at substations for American Transmission Co. and Madison Gas and Electric this summer tested positive for PFAS. Since then, Davis has directed the department to avoid using the foam until it was replaced.

Madison Fire Department switches to PFAS-free firefighting foam

“The fire service is always there to help, and to find out that we’re actually causing a problem in the environment and for our people potentially, I think it’s imperative that fire chiefs across the country realize that and make an immediate change,” Davis said. “I think on a personal level, I’ve got three young kids and I want them to have safe drinking water for years to come.”

The department hired a company to pump the old foam out of every engine before decontaminating the trucks and filling them with the new PFAS-free foam.

Madison Fire Department switches to PFAS-free firefighting foam Madison Fire Department switches to PFAS-free firefighting foam

Before the change, firefighters used one type of foam to treat all fires. Now, they have two foam options, one to target a class A fire with ordinary combustible fuels and the other to suppress class B fires with flammable liquids.

Firefighter Bob Luling said 98% of the fires the department responds to are class A and will require the new foam called Knockout.

According to a news release from the department, when tested by the University of Notre Dame, Knockout showed fluorine levels at about one part per million, compared to typical firefighting foam that contains around 5,000-7,000 ppm.

Similarly, the class B foam clocked in at 2 ppm fluorine.

“We care about each other, we care about our constituents in the city of Madison, the groundwater, the drinking water. Our families are in the area, our families are growing up here,” Luling said.

Davis said the foam is PFAS-free according to the most recent testing standards, which could change.

“Companies can change that proprietary formula and tests take a while to catch up to them,” Davis said.

Davis says he’s confident in the independent, third-party testing and research his department did to ensure the foam was free of PFAS.

“We can be back on foam and confident in that valuable lifesaving tool back in place and our crews can go ahead and use it again,” Davis said.

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