SAN ANTONIO - One reason most of our TV station survived is because firefighters used a very effective weapon on the flames: an amazing foam that can stop a fire in its tracks, and doesn't cause as much damage as water.
Water is dripping from the ceiling on the bottom floor of WOAI TV, but the damage could have been worse. Instead of using tons of water, they used a foam that is said to be ten times as effective. They call it compressed air foam. It’s a shaving cream like substance containing water, detergent and air bubbles.
The San Antonio Fire Department has had it for years, but they're using it more often now because of the drought, and because it doesn't cause as much damage to the rest of the building as water does.
“If it's your house on fire, if we can limit the damage that's done by us putting the fire out, that's a good customer service thing. So we want to limit the amount of water we use to put the fire out if we can,” said SAFD Assistant Chief Robert Mikel.
Hours after the fire was put out, the fire department gave us a demonstration of how it works. The foam is sticky, it clings to walls and ceilings and absorbs a lot of heat. One the other hand, when water is sprayed on a fire most of it falls to the ground quickly and it doesn't absorb near as much heat.
From outside you couldn't see them using the foam inside our building, but that’s one reason the intense flames didn't spread beyond one second floor corner.
The compressed air shoots out of the hose so powerfully, firefighters can stand a safe distance away from the flames.
“It's safer for firefighters and makes the lines lighter because there's air in them. The hose instead of weighing 300 lbs., that we're dragging up the stairs, probably weighs fifty or sixty,” said SAFD Battalion Chief Russell Johnson.
For years they've used this foam as a retardant, protecting buildings in brush fires. However, as we saw Tuesday morning, it can also push back flames inside a building and keep them confined to one area.