The Aircraft Rescue Firefighters are not only just in the United States; but, at all airports worldwide. We all do the same job and have basically the same requirements. Our focus is to respond to aircraft emergencies as well as medical calls and structure fires on airport property. We are the frontline and create the rescue path for passengers to escape a burning aircraft. We then fight the fire and extinguish it as soon as possible. If someone doesn’t know, and is curious, how we do our job ask us: We will show you what we do. It’s not fair to judge a department without the training, knowledge, and experience. Second guessing the actions taken to mitigate an incident without this background is beside the point.
The time requirements to get to a scene are mandates. All airport fire departments train to meet these requirements. You have to take the terrain, weather, traffic and many other issues into consideration. For instance: What time of day is it? Is it sunny and clear with good visibility and can you can see a long way? Or is it night time and dark and hard to see anything? Driving on the tarmac takes less navigation and assessment because there are lights and well-marked signs which allow us to respond when on a taxiway or runway; however, if there is an emergency incident away from these marked illuminated paved areas we have to respond and operate just as quickly but it’s more challenging because we have to navigate and meet time mandates while also ensuring safe operation of the arriving unit. Then upon immediately arriving on scene we are responsible for making sure that injured passengers, who may have been ejected at time of crash, and bystanders who may be there trying to help are not accidentally struck by the engine due to poor visibility.
It’s potentially a very chaotic scene and the operators and firefighters on the truck need to stay aware of what is going on in the surroundings. Sometimes that means that a firefighter might need to get off the truck, on foot, to make sure no bodies or aircraft parts end up being ran over. The operator can then follow with the engine to be sure that no one on the ground is harmed and that the integrity of our vehicle is intact so we can efficiently arrive to scene and do our jobs. Have you ever watched the news following a plane crash? The media call on their “so-called Experts” to answer their questions. No one ever calls on ARFF. The ARFF could easily answer questions such as “why 1st responder events were done this way?” One common question that is asked in relation to crashes with “gear up landings” is why the runway wasn’t covered in foam.
The answer to that, if you are curious, is that in the US this practice was stopped in the late 70’s. It’s not feasible to us an ARFF unit to lay a foam blanket down because it’s an totally different type of foam, plus now an asset is out of service till reserviced with agent. Please don’t take us for granted. We are here, daily, to assure safe travels for airline passengers worldwide. We may not have as many medical calls or structure fire calls like a city or county fire department…BUT it’s the one big call where we arrive with our specialized training and experience and save lives. It’s then that we have done our jobs and the importance of the ARFF is clear. Spend some time with your ARFF Department learn what and who we are.
About the Author: Bill Hutfilz is currently the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Training Officer for the Clark County Fire Department. He oversees all ARFF training and operations for the Clark County Department of Aviation. Clark County Department of Aviation owns and operates McCarran International Airport and four general aviation facilities. Bill is a Retired USAF Firefighter and has more than 45 years in the fire service.