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Foam Fire Extinguishers

Foams are commonly used on class B fires, and are also effective on class A fires. These are mainly water based, with a foaming agent so that the foam can float on top of the burning liquid and break the interaction between the flames and the fuel surface. Ordinary foams are designed to work on nonpolar flammable liquids such as petrol (gasoline), but may break down too quickly in polar liquids such as alcohol or glycol. Facilities which handle large amounts of flammable polar liquids use a specialised "alcohol foam" instead. Alcohol foams must be gently "poured" across the burning liquid. If the fire cannot be approached closely enough to do this, they should be sprayed onto an adjacent solid surface so that they run gently onto the burning liquid. Ordinary foams work better if "poured" but it is not critical.

A "protein foam" was used for fire suppression in aviation crashes until the 1960s development of "light water", also known as "Aqueous Film-Forming Foam" (or AFFF). Carbon dioxide (later sodium bicarbonate) extinguishers were used to knock down the flames and foam used to prevent re-ignition of the fuel fumes. "Foaming the runway" can reduce friction and sparks in a crash landing, and protein foam continued to be used for that purpose, although FAA regulations prohibited reliance upon its use for suppression.