The Foam Pump Evolution with Fire Lion

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Unpacking the ground-breaking innovations of Fire Lion in fire-fighting foam technology under Director Aaron Johnson’s stewardship

From firefighter to foam expert to Director of Fire Lion, Aaron Johnson is a global leader in fire-fighting foam technology. His journey began in the industrial heartland of Marinette, Wisconsin with Ansul, a company rooted deep within his family tree since 1951.

Johnson tells: “I was at Ansul for about 14 years. I started in research and development, testing the performance of new foam agents and hardware. There was a lot of trial and error in those early days, plenty that didn’t work, but it also paved the way for innovation and advancement.” The mix of research, technical services, training, and sales engineering roles equipped him with an industry-wide perspective, providing him with an invaluable understanding of the fire industry landscape.

In 2021, Fire Lion spotted the fire industry veteran and brough him as Global Business Development Sales Manager. A year later, he ascended to the role of Director, taking over from Tom Reser.

“Fire Lion is not merely a manufacturer of positive displacement gear pumps. We provide the very backbone for the foam industry used in firefighting,” says Johnson. Fire Lion’s gear pumps are found in a diverse range of applications from petroleum, oil and gas industries to industrial fire apparatus in global companies like Shell and Valero, and across the Middle East.

Fire Lion’s expertise extends to creating a range of foam pumps that can function via an electric motor, a diesel engine, or even a water turbine, depending on the end user’s requirements. “We can drive the pump using Pelton wheels if we don’t have an electric supply or if the end user does not want a diesel engine on site. If there’s water, we can use a Pelton wheel.”

1-ISJ- The Foam Pump Evolution with Fire Lion
Fire Lion’s Herringbone Rotor

Johnson proudly notes: “We offer a wide array of pumps, ranging from five or 10 gallons a minute, all the way up to a listed pump of 425 to 450 gallons a minute. With non-listed pumps, we can go up to 700 to 750 gallons a minute. This capacity and flexibility have positioned us as a vital player in the foam market.”

Beyond firefighting, Fire Lion also caters to the water mist market. “If there’s a water mist application and someone needs an FM approved pump to drive their water supply for a low-pressure water mist system, Fire Lion can supply that as well. Our FM approval extends to water too.”

Expanding footprints

“We’re not just a small company, we’re a global force with a wide-reaching footprint,” Johnson declares, reflecting on the company’s standing in the market. Fire Lion collaborates with major foam agent Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) worldwide, reinforcing the comprehensive spectrum of their full foam systems.

Fire Lion’s versatility is underlined by its ability to comply with a plethora of international standards: UL listed, FM approved, CE marking for Europe, and even Civil Defense approvals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “We’re well entrenched into the Middle East,” Johnson asserts. “Our reach is global and our commitment is absolute.”

Their vast distribution network extends from North America to Africa, Asia, and Europe, to the Middle East and South America. Antarctica remains the only untouched continent, a challenge Johnson approaches with a good-natured determination: “I haven’t been to Antarctica. I’m not sure I want to go, but I will if there’s a big enough project.”

This global reach has roots in Fire Lion’s past, specifically the tenacity and vision of previous owner, Tom Reser. “He was vital in establishing those global relationships when he created Fire Lion. Today, we maintain and hope to grow these relationships,” explains Johnson.

Regarding prospective growth, Johnson identifies Latin America as a region where Fire Lion currently lacks a strong presence, and the sub-Saharan Africa, rich in petroleum oil and gas, as another promising market. The Middle East, where the company is already deeply entrenched, also offers further potential. “We always want to grow the market. It’s one of our primary goals,” Johnson says.

Johnson also mentions Australia as a key market, acknowledging the country’s transition to fluorine-free foam and the ensuing opportunities. “We know that there’s a foam market in Australia. With the ban on AFFFs, we foresee projects emerging, and a deeper involvement in Australia would be great.

“Across the globe, we’re always looking to grow the business, expand market share, and provide a solution for the end users that they’re going to need.”

Pioneering a sustainable future

“At Fire Lion, we’re always investigating how we can improve the efficiency of our pumps,” Johnson tells. The company’s ethos of continuous improvement, fuelled by a restless curiosity for emerging technologies, has been a significant factor in their market success.

“Improving the product you sell is something every company should strive to do. There are always opportunities for improvement; the challenge lies in discovering them,” he stated. With the advancement in composites and technology in the fire industry, Johnson believes that breakthroughs might be right around the corner.

Fire Lion also remains cognisant of the latest trends in the industry, such as the growing interest in remote monitoring and testing of pumps. This area, Johnson shares, is currently a hot topic in the NFPA 20 Committee, of which he is a member.

He reveals: “Tom Reser sold the company to a Netherlands-based company called WB Fire Packs, a major fire pump supplier for the European market. They have developed a product called Fire Coach, a tool for remote monitoring and testing of fire pumps. It’s a new technology entering the marketplace.”

Another innovative offering from Fire Lion is an electronic foam proportioner that allows testing of foam systems without discharging foam solution. Johnson explained, “The end users are getting pressured not to discharge foam solution for testing purposes. We have an FM-approved product that enables testing according to NFPA guidelines while allowing the foam concentrate to be recirculated back to the foam tank, which means no more disposal and replenishment costs.”

Such innovations could lead to significant cost savings for end users. “Installing this component means you can test the system by recirculating back to the tank. You no longer have to discharge anything for testing, and you can easily gain your ROI back in a very short timeframe.”

Advocating for a safer industry

“Fire Lion’s current focus is assisting with the transition from PFAS Foam agents, AFFFs, ARFFFs to SFFF (Synthetic Fluorine Free Foam),” Johnson says when discussing the company’s priority in the short term.

This transition is not without its challenges, as system design must be carefully reviewed to ensure compatibility with new foam types. “There is no drop-in replacement these days, you have to do a full design review,” Johnson warns. He also added that this process often involves revisiting details such as piping dimensions and friction loss calculations.

“We are trying to help them understand those differences and realise what needs to get done. That way, we can provide a solution for the end user that they’re going to be happy with,” Johnson affirmed. He emphasises the importance of ensuring that the systems are not just satisfactory to the customer, but also offer the highest level of protection. This, after all, is the central ethos of a company operating in the life safety industry.

He praises the relationships Fire Lion has built with foam OEMs: “They’re the ones who make the foam agents; they’ve got a lot of that background information. It has helped out to have that relationship and use them as a resource.”

Looking to the future, Johnson hinted at exciting developments for Fire Lion. “We’re getting back to improving our pump and design. There’s going to be some significant news coming up, and we’re hoping to make a big splash into the marketplace.”

While he remains tight-lipped on specifics, he stresses the company’s commitment to constant improvement and efficiency enhancement. “We really want to showcase our commitment to making our product better, more efficient. That way, end users and customers get the best product available on the marketplace.” He adds.

This exclusive article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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