Skip to main content

Developed and maintained
by the NFCC

Control measure

Use, containment and substitution of firefighting foam

Control measure knowledge

Use and containment of firefighting foam

Using firefighting foam may have an environmental benefit, if the fire can be quickly extinguished and fire water run-off reduced. If procuring firefighting foam, the type should be considered and an environmental risk assessment of its use developed. The risk assessment for the foam should be shared with personnel who may need to use it.

Containing firefighting foam run-off is preferable to allowing its uncontrolled discharge to drains. Foam run-off is a form of polluting material that should be dealt with by using the control measures for the hazard of Polluting materials.

Protocols for using firefighting foam should consider how its run-off can be contained and the environmental considerations that should be applied. Firefighting foam run-off should not be allowed to enter an oil separator, as it may flush oil into the site’s drainage system.

If firefighting foam is used, relevant organisations should be advised of its use, the location and the quantities involved. It may be beneficial to identify sites where firefighting foam may need to be used, and joint working practices agreed with relevant organisations, such as:

  • Responsible person
  • Environmental agency
  • Nature conservation bodies
  • Sewerage undertaker
  • Local authority
  • Highways agency

The type of firefighting foam used should be appropriate for the task and the minimum quantity used. Using foam is a trigger for notifying environmental agencies about an incident, unless there is a formal working agreement about threshold quantities for notifying the local agency. This includes the use of compressed air foam systems (CAFS), which will usually need less concentrate and water to produce adequate foam for firefighting. The reduced levels of concentrate and run-off produced should be easier to contain, and have less of an impact if it enters a body of water.

If firefighting foam may need to be used near or in sensitive sites, such as sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) or water sources, risk assessments should include considerations about its potential impacts and extra care taken.

Substitution of firefighting foam

If using firefighting foam could present a significant risk to the environment, substitution using alternative approaches should be considered, such as:

  • Using alternative types of foam
  • Using a different extinguishing media
  • Using high-pressure water fogging systems
  • Adopting a controlled burning strategy

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • If procuring foam concentrate, assess the environmental risks of its use and ensure personnel who may use it are aware of the risk assessment 

  • Implement protocols for extinguishing fires using firefighting foam

  • Identify sites where firefighting foam may need to be used and establish joint working practices with relevant organisations

  • Ensure the potential impacts of using firefighting foam are included in risk assessments for sensitive sites

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Apply the protocols for using firefighting foam and consider substitutions for its use if required

  • Ensure firefighting foam run-off is not allowed to enter oil separators

  • Inform relevant organisations about the use of firefighting foam, the location and the quantities involved