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ARFF Working Group ARFF Officer Program

ARFF Working Group ARFF Officer Program

by Jason Graber

In September of 2018, the ARFF Working Group (ARFFWG) Board of Directors, in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), submitted its final submission responses to the proposed recommendations to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding the San Francisco Asiana 214 crash.  These submissions included recommendations on building a staffing model at an airport, preventing ground strikes of passengers and crew who evacuated a crashed aircraft, training and operational procedures for high-reach extendable turrets (HRET’s) and command and control training guidelines for commanding officers responding to an aircraft accident.  As part of the command and control training guidelines, the ARFFWG demonstrated a need for multiple programs to be developed that would help enhance the skill sets of personnel who respond to aircraft related emergencies and are in command on a daily basis of airport fire departments and mutual aid resources.  From this, the ARFF Officer program was developed to help provide a skill set for ARFF Unit and command officers in the management of an airport related incident, while also providing knowledge for them to better do their jobs.  This article will introduce the program and provide a background for the program’s utilization for ARFF departments and their personnel as well as training of mutual aid responders to your respective airports.  

In past articles and presentations, I have discussed the lack of formal training opportunities that our industry (in the United States anyway) possesses respective to advanced ARFF or command and control, incident management training, and education.  I am hopeful that we can turn the corner and formally implement programs that are reasonably uniform within our ARFF departments and across the globe that address our needs.  It would be great to have a national standard (like NFPA) which lays out our command and control, incident management training, and associated job performance requirements (JPR’s).  Having a framework or program that allows for the training to be implemented that is specific to our respective departments but also isn’t widely different from airport to airport or region to region should be the end goal.  This is also important as no mandate currently exists to include this into our respective training programs but will hopefully be forthcoming with an amendment or new guidance document to address this.  The only real command and control or incident management training that we are required to complete are the various National Incident Management System (NIMS) courses for levels of responsibility that our members possess.  

The goal of the ARFF Officer course was to create and establish coursework in both classroom and practical applications that provides instruction to students to further advance their knowledge base above the basic (or initial) ARFF curriculum levels.  The end game of this program was to provide the students skills that allow them to think in the role of an officer, even if they are not an officer.  The program is built for ARFF responders who may find themselves in a multitude of situations or roles on an incident scene.  The course material also includes other topics that may not necessarily be a part of the emergency scene but help with the day to day management of the ARFF station (customer service, PIO functions).  The ultimate hope is that this program spreads across the country and becomes a mainstay in the industry in the coming years.  

The syllabus of the ARFF Officer course states: 

Aviation related incidents and accidents have the potential to be the most complicated and disastrous events that first responders may encounter during their careers.   With the potential for massive amounts of people and the potential for a hazardous material event to emerge from an aircraft accident, first responders to these events need to have unique skill sets to help in the management of an ARFF based fire department.  Even before an incident, personnel need to possess knowledge that can ensure the safe and efficient operation within the airport community.  The purpose of this program is to prepare experienced aviation-based firefighters with operational actions associated with an airport emergency. The program will focus on the Airport Emergency Plan, coordinated actions with governmental agencies, and incident specific actions to help bring an incident to a successful closure and ensuring that society is restored on the airport as quickly as possible.  By the end of the course, participants will have a much deeper understanding of operations in an ARFF department in both emergency and administrative functions.

The course objectives of the ARFF Officer course include:

  • Describe and demonstrate the applicable regulatory standards that exist for ARFF departments in the United States and globally.
  • To discuss the elements of preplanning as it relates to the ARFF department and how impactful it can be when emergencies strike the airport or surrounding area.
  • To discuss and demonstrate the necessity of mass casualty incident management with respect to an aircraft accident or incident and the need to ensure that structure is established and patients are moved from the scene to a medical care facility.
  • To discuss the Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and how an ARFF department utilizes the tools of ICS and NIMS to successfully mitigate the event.
  • To describe the hazard’s present to personnel and the potential risks for crew, passengers and other airport responders.
  • To describe and demonstrate the appropriate tactics and strategies used when dealing with aircraft accidents and incidents.
  • To describe and demonstrate the requirements for preserving the scene of an aircraft accident or incident.
  • To discuss the role of media and the impact that it could have on an aircraft accident or incident.
  • To describe and demonstrate the elements of post incident critiques so that incident lessons are learned and applied to future events.  

In its current framework, the ARFFWG ARFF Officer program was built with eleven modules.  These modules include along with a brief description:

  • Module 1:  Course Introduction/ Regulator Agencies and Requirements – an introduction to the course and a review of the entities and regulations that make up the Aircraft Rescue Firefighting world in the United States and the world.  
  • Module 2:  Airport Emergency Plans – a review of the Airport Emergency Plan and Airport Certification Manual as it relates to the specific airport and the contents that are contained the manual.  As necessary, other mutual aid plans and procedures are discussed.
  • Module 3:  Customer Service – a discussion on the importance of customer service as it relates to the airport environment and the various people that make up our customer service network. 
  • Module 4:  Incident Command System (Review) & Incident Buildout – a review of the Incident Command System and the terminology that is utilized during an event, regardless of its size.  During this incident, personnel will have the ability to build their own incident management framework utilizing the ICS and its terminology.
  • Module 5:  Mass Casualty Incident Management – a review (or introduction) of the elements of mass casualty incident management and the need to quickly and effectively management an incident where people are injured and need to be triaged, treated and transported from the scene based on local protocols and MCI resources.
  • Module 6:  Media Interaction/ Public Information Officer – An introduction to Public Information Officer (PIO) functions as they related to the airport and an airport/aircraft related accident.  
  • Module 7:  Incident Safety & Incident Safety Officer Functions – a review of incident safety and incident safety officer functions as they relate specifically to an airport or aircraft related incident.  Module goes beyond the basics of incident safety for structural type incidents and works to get personnel thinking in a larger scale of an aircraft crash or hazardous materials type incident.  
  • Module 8:  Airport Emergencies, Incident Management & Tactics/Strategy – a robust review of aircraft and airport related emergencies and incidents that an ARFF Officer may encounter with discussion on how to manage the event to safely mitigate it.  
  • Module 9:  Airport Incident Simulations & Response Scenarios – practical scenarios in which class students will hone their skills to manage the incident and will include building out the incident using ICS, managing the MCI portion of the incident, tracking and maintaining accountability of the on-scene units and other task specific items.  This module can be completed in a variety of methods for the students to gain practical experience.  
  • Module 10:  Evidence Preservation at Aircraft Incidents – a review of the necessary steps to ensure that post-crash evidence is preserved so that investigative entities have the ability to conduct a proper and complete investigation of the accident causes and conditions.  
  • Module 11:  Post Incident Debriefing & Critiquing – a review of the necessary elements of conducting debriefings and critiques following an incident.  Information on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and critical incident stress management (CISM) are included in this module and can be a great way to include a department’s respective program into the course.  

The ARFF Officer program is currently available for download from the ARFFWG website under the Training and Education tab on the member’s side of the website.  Once downloaded, you can deliver the modules as they are (on the ARFFWG PowerPoint background) or can be customized to your own or department /organization slide deck background if you choose to do so.  We are amenable with your department / organization customizing these lessons to fit your specific needs.   You can exchange out the pictures and videos to reflect your own airport or response area should you wish to do that.  If you modify our program, we ask that you give credit to the ARFFWG for the work that was done putting this program together.  

PIC 1 Figure 1: The ARFF Officer program can be found in its entirety on the ARFF Working Group website on the member’s side under the Training/Education tab.  Once you click on the tab (orange box), another box will appear to the right of that that will take you to folders for each section.  Within that, you can download the files.  

The entire program can be delivered in approximately 22-24 hours.  The course can be delivered in any setting that your department chooses.  The program could also be cut down in any combination you like for the benefit of your members and could be used to help bring other stakeholders into your departments to help introduce or reinforce relationships and partnerships.   For instance, if you have an Emergency Manager at your airport or outside of the airport that assists with emergency management related functions, they could be used to help with Module 2 on Airport Emergency Plans.  You could also utilize your organizations Public Information Officer (if you have one that is outside of the ARFF department) to introduce their role and things they do when it comes to media relations in Module 6.  You could also use the Airport Incident Simulations and Response Scenarios in a live setting to conduct evolutions such as during an ARFF Basic class or recurrent training.  All of these lessons are 100% flexible in that regard and we want each department to utilize them as they see fit with the hope that it will aid in developing skill sets that our personnel need to better do their jobs.  These lessons could also count as recurrent training under FAA Advisory Circular 150/5210-17C, until an amendment is made in this area or a new regulatory document is released and fit into multiple categories. 

When you access the course information on the website, you will find multiple tools that will help you in building your specific course (if you customize it) or deliver it as is.  Each module has a lesson plan that was built in Microsoft Word for all eleven modules with the module objectives, learning outcomes and where each could fit under the current training categories.  The lesson plans have the information from the PowerPoint slides as well as information on the videos that can be embedded into the slides (they were left out as they were too large, but you have access to them in the same tab to download).  Several of the lesson plans have practical exercises that can be utilized to reinforce the learning objectives for the particular modules.  For instance, module 4 on Incident Command Systems has a practical exercise that allows students to build out incident command structures as they see fit and module 5 has an exercise where students triage sample patients (which could be utilized as a starting point for an MCI drill).  We have provided a template for mock patients that can be printed off on 3” x 5” index cards from the Avery® Corporation and available from Amazon or Staples like stores.  In building my course, I utilized the index cards and zip-tied them to plastic dinosaur toys.  For the triage, I purchased black, red, yellow and green small pins to decipher which color they would be.  The zip-ties, dinosaurs and small pins were also purchased online for a very small price.  

PIC 2 Figure 2:  A view of the lesson plan that is available for each module.  Each lesson plan has a set of objectives, instructor information, applicable regulatory standards and the PowerPoint presentation slides laid out in the document. 

With the lesson plan, each module has a PowerPoint presentation to go along with it.  There are also several practical lesson plans included in the Training and Education section along with several course documents to help manage the program such as a syllabus and templates for MCI cards and aircraft/apparatus for wipe board drills that can be printed on magnetic material.  Following the course completion, departments should recognize their personnel for having completed the program by providing a certificate or appropriate acknowledgement.  Finally, the program tabs contain command board templates for aircraft and structural incidents should you wish to utilize those for your training and incident operations and currently don’t have anything like that in your department.  The command boards are in a PDF format but can be provided if you want them—they were created in Microsoft Visio and can be fully customizable as long as you have Microsoft Visio.  Reach out to me if you would like them – my contact information is at the end of this article.  

Getting back to the Incident Simulations module, when I have previously taught this course, I have utilized the Alert 3 ARFF Interactive Board ( to run incident scenarios.  On purpose, modules 8 (Strategies and Tactics) and 9 were intended to be the longest of the course so that students get a chance to have a refresher in strategic and tactical objectives in an airport/aircraft incident and have sufficient time to hone these skills in a practical setting.  The vision of these two modules is to be somewhere between 8-12 hours in length when delivered in a traditional setting – but modify as you see fit.  The Alert 3 software allows for a comprehensive incident simulation experience with your own airport if you have purchased the program.   Other incident simulation programs will also work as well but as of this writing, I have not used any others.  You could also do whiteboard simulations or practical sessions with your personnel to accomplish the module objectives—it’s completely up to you and flexible.  I do recommend purchasing this program as it has some tremendous features to allow for the simulation of incidents that can be done over and over again.  

With the curriculum as it is laid out, the intention for the program is not to replace any current officer development that you currently have in your department.  It is also not intended to replace any of the Fire or EMS Officer related courses that are offered in your home jurisdictions (such as Fire Officer I through IV).  The ARFF Officer program was intended to be a supplement to those programs and while it does contain some parallel material, the Fire Officer programs are not necessarily ARFF centric whereas the ARFF Officer program is.  

Thankfully, aircraft and airport incidents are few and far between, but when they do happen, they will likely be significant incidents and severely strain the resources on and off the airport.  While the task level job functions of responding personnel are essential and vital to the successful conclusion of the incident, incident commanders and personnel that fill the various roles within the command structure (command staff, general staff, unit officers, etc.), must be well versed in their job functions and provide leadership to the personnel working within the incident.  The Aircraft Rescue Firefighting industry in the United States has struggled to establish its own set of standards and regulations and subsequent training and education opportunities with respect to command and control/ incident management functions.  With the development of the ARFFWG’s ARFF Officer program, we now have an outlet that can be used at airports of all sizes to help better prepare our personnel (you don’ t need to be a formal officer to receive this program) for a day that we hope never arrives at our door steps.  We frequently do not get a second chance to get it right and game day is not the day to have our first experience with this!

About the Author:  Jason Graber, AFO/EFO is the current Education and Training Affairs Officer for the ARFF Working Group.  He served on the Board of Directors from 2012 to 2018 and as the Chairman during the 2017-2018 year.  Graber holds an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice from SUNY Canton, a Bachelor Degree from Bowling Green State University, a Master’s Degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is a 2020 Graduate of the National Fire Academies Executive Fire Officer Program.  Graber can be contacted at

ARFF Working Group – ARFF Officer Program