“Ground Game” Sea-Tac Airport Fire Department Staffing Approach

By: Fire Chief Randy Krause

I am going to start this article out by asking a question, are we doing enough?  As an industry, are we doing enough?  As Fire Chief’s, are we doing enough?  As Firefighters, are we doing enough?  As I was giving my recent presentation on the success we have had a Sea-Tac International Airport related to increasing staffing, it dawned on me; we collectively as an industry can do so much more.  If we become more strategic, develop timelines, educate elected officials, partner with the FAA, and rally a collective voice, we can not only do enough, but we can actually initiate positive changes within the industry.

A few things I will address in this article:  how many firefighters does it take to effectively operate an ARFF Vehicle?  Response times, agent discharge requirements, and the importance of learning how to communicate with your airport leadership team.

Alright, just one more question.  How many firefighters does the FAA require us to staff in each of our ARFF Apparatus?  Hmmmm?  Exactly, the FAA does not limit it to one, but then why have many of us settled on just providing one person in these very expensive and highly technical apparatus.  Many of these apparatus have elevated waterways (HRET), multiple radios, and are in my opinion too complicated for one person to operate especially into a stressful situation such as an airplane crash with potentially 100’s of passengers evacuating the scene and more than likely running directly in the opposite direction the vehicle is heading.  Pilots get help with planes that are programmed to fly themselves and we put firefighters in these highly technical and complicated pieces of equipment and ask them to not “only” drive, but to talk on the radio, dodge passengers running from the scene, engage in a firefight, all under, at times, the worst of conditions such as darkness, fog, snow, and rain.  REALLY….. Nobody with any level of common sense would do a Crew Recourse Analysis or Human Factors Study and suggest we put only one person in the cab of these vehicles and believe they can operate them effectively.  I know many of you do this.  I know you are very good at what you do.  I am not taking that away from those that are forced or inherited this situation.  I am suggesting enough is enough and we collectively need to take a position that this practice is just not acceptable.  I am not asking the FAA to give us a staffing number, but am asking Airport Leadership and Fire Chief’s to wake up and do the right thing. (Get two firefighters in each ARFF Vehicle all the time)

On to staffing and how we can utilize the FAR 139 and NFPA 403 to assist in increasing staffing to better support the flying public out our airport.  First, I must recognize Houston Fire Department and Ron Krusleski, as he and the team at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Fire were instrumental in helping us communicate to our new Executive Director at our airport.

These are the key areas we focused on to educate our Executive Team to get their support.

  • Meet FAA 3 minute response time requirement:
    • We all need to meet this requirement. We had a situation in which our primary taxiway was being removed impacting our ability to meet this time requirement.  We were able to work with our planning team to establish two new ARFF Roads to possibly address this issue.  However, the new ARFF Roads did not provide us what we needed to continue to meet this requirement.  We conducted many response drills trying to make the time, but could not.  Between 1955 and August of 2015 we operated out of one fire station and were able to meet the response requirement, although it was under stress as we just barely met this requirement.  As soon as it was determined we no longer could make this, we established a second Fire Station on the west side of our airport.  As Station #2 came on line, this drove us to relook at staffing and resource allocation to best meet an effective and efficient response on our airfield.
  • Agent Discharge Requirements:
    • We utilized NFPA 403 as referenced by the FAA to help address and meet agent discharge requirements. The Fire Team in Houston had already done this assessment and determined for initial engagement on a 737 aircraft in the initial stages 1320 gallons of agent is needed to adequately address the practical critical area.  Using this and the fact that we now needed ARFF Vehicles on both sides of our airport, we communicated to leadership the need for (2) apparatus on each side of the airport to meet agent discharge requirements.  Most of you only have one firefighter in your ARFF Apparatus and it is not reasonable to suggest that both your roof and bumper turrets would be deployed at the same time.  Thus, we used 1200 gpms from each of two roof turrets, as two ARFF Vehicles could through discharging via roof turrets at the same time meet and/or exceed FAA/NFPA requirements.  One ARFF Vehicle falls short in accomplishing this and two ARFF Vehicles produce 2400 gpm’s exceeding the 1320 gpm requirement. (See graphic depicting PCA and TCA)
      • Meeting agent application rates: The FAA refers to NFPA in reference in regards to Theoretical Critical Area/Practical Critical Area (TCA/PCA)



  • Here is a quick overview of the graphic. 1322 is the amount of gallons identified in NFPA 403 for a 737 aircraft.  One vehicle does not meet this, if you like me do not believe both the roof turret and bumper turret should be used at the same time  (especially with only one person in cab). The 10,125 gallon number for sustainable operations cannot be met with (3) 3000 gallon ARFF Apparatus, which helped us not only justify (2)ARFF Apparatus on both sides of our airport, but adding a fourth staffed apparatus to our capabilities.

1.2.4 and 1.2.5 from AC 150/5210-6D

  • 2.4 Theoretical Critical Fire Area (TCA).
  • The TCA serves as a means of categorizing aircraft in terms of the magnitude of the potential fire hazard in which they may become involved. It is not intended to represent the average, maximum, or minimum spill fire size associated with a particular aircraft. For information on TCA, refer to NFPA 403, Annex B, §B.1.1.
  • 2.5 Practical Critical Fire Area (PCA).
  • The PCA and the related quantities of extinguishing agents are based on criteria formulated during the Second Meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Rescue and Fire Fighting Panel (RFFP II) in June 1972. RFFP II developed material indicating the practical area is two-thirds of the theoretical area based on the Panel’s work, which included a study of extinguishing agents used on actual aircraft fires. In 99 out of 106 studied fires, the quantities of agents used were less than those previously recommended by ICAO. For information on PCA, refer to NFPA 403, Annex B, §B.1.1.
  • The references highlighted in the Advisory Circular is the leverage we needed to bring in NFPA 403. In addition, Chapter 3 (below) in the Advisory Circular reference quantities and discharge capability.  It is within discharge capability that I believe provides us the necessary information to justify increasing or adding another ARFF apparatus in some situations.  At least, it definitely applied to our situation of splitting our response posture from one to two stations.


The Indexes for general aviation airports are identified in NFPA 403, Chapter 4, Table 4.3.1 and cover the areas not governed by the FAA. The extinguishing agents, quantities, and discharge and response capability for each Index are referenced in NFPA 403, Chapter 5, Table 5.3.1 (b), in U.S. customary units. NFPA 403, Annex B, additionally describes the methodology used to arrive at the designated control times (§B.2), discharge rates (§B.3), and quantities of agents to be provided (§B.4 and §B.5).

Highlighted text below is from the NTSB report after Asiana 214 incident. 

Provide capabilities for interior fire attack/rescue:  In this area we focused on the NTSB report post Asiana 214.  In their report they recommend;

The FAA has conducted crew resource studies and asks each of us to do the same for our unique situation at our specific airport.  We at Sea-Tac Fire have taken this to heart and developed the concept of focusing on the “Ground Game” focusing on getting as many firefighters on the ground within the first ten minutes of an aircraft incident.  By adding an additional ARFF Apparatus with (2) firefighter’s we add capabilities to an effective ground game.  In addition to this, we are in the near future going to a two engine concept.  This will eliminate one Aid Car, but provides our team much more flexibility, not only on the airfield, but also for responses to the terminal.

  • Educating Aviation Leadership:
    • As leaders, all we can do is educate our executives related to our operations and needs. We all have opportunities that may have been missed. By this, I mean not taking advantage of educating our leaders on the complexities and needs of the men and women protecting the public each and every day.
  • Financial Impact to the airport:


  • It is important to break down any costs associated with recommendation into terms that your executives will understand. In the example above, we asked for 8 new firefighters to staff a 4th ARFF Apparatus and 4 Captains.  The financial impact in this example is identified above and easily understood by the executives making decisions in support or against your proposal.
  • It is just “business”:
    • I learned a long time ago that we as Fire Chief’s and leaders in our industry really need to increase our business acumen. We need to be able to effectively communicate with our Airport Executives.  Knowing our business needs is one thing, but being able to communicate the needs in a way that executives understand is another.  My premise is always to articulate the need and allow the leader’s time to make a decision or ask more questions.  This is done without emotion and always as part of a larger strategic goal.  Position the argument or information in a way that allows leadership to help make the decision.  You also have to remember, our fire department budgets and costs are part of the larger airport budget and plan.  We need to be mindful of this and know how our needs fit in the larger picture of the airport plan of finance.

 We provided a slide to executives running down the first 10 minutes of an emergency.  We were trying to show that with our assigned projected ARFF apparatus what we could actually provide in regards to resources during an emergency event.  By focusing on the first 10 minutes we are able to really paint an effective operation picture to understand totality of need during the next few hours and beyond.  How many personnel could we get on the ground during an aircraft incident?  As indicated in the graphic “The First 10 Minutes” we at Sea-Tac International Airport can get (8) personnel on the ground immediately from two Engines and One Aid Car.  We also have the option to pull once the fire is knocked down from our four ARFF Trucks to add to this if the situation warrants.  In addition to all this we have one Battalion Chief, who is our Incident Commander.  This is a total of 17 on the initial response.  Many of you have less and many of you have more staffing.  Lay out your needs in a simple graphic and communicate your specific request and what you will be doing with adding personnel and why they are needed.


In conclusion; we all need to up our game when it comes to running the business side of the fire department.  In the end, our primary responsibility is to provide effective professional services in an ALL HAZARD APPROACH to protect not only the public, but our firefighters as well.  Staffing will continue to be an issue for our airports, but I am asking that we all collectively work together to affect positive changes when we can related to staffing in order to help better support our mission of Saving Lives, Protecting Property, and Serving the Public.  Relationships are critical to getting this done, not only amongst ARFF Professionals, but also with our Airport Leadership.   My team and I are available to assist in any way possible to help those of you out there trying to do the right thing and get staffing numbers that will allow you and your teams to effectively respond and protect the public, while maintaining a safe/safer working environment for your personnel.


About the Author:  Randy Krause has 33 years of fire service experience and for the past 8.5 years has been the Fire Chief at Port of Seattle Fire Department protecting Sea-Tac International airport.  He has a Bachelor’s degree in Business from the University of Washington – Bothell and a Master’s Degree from Gonzaga.