This is not going to be a long article. However, this article will cover a subject that is all too familiar to the Aircraft Rescue Firefighter.

Those of us who have been around Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting at airports, including those of us who are retired, but can’t seem to stay away, have seen a lot of changes to the ARFF apparatus over the 50 plus years. Gone are the day of Oshkosh MB-5 and Biederman MB-1 ARFF apparatus that carried a crew of four to six personnel, a driver, turret operator(s), handline men and rescuemen.

Today’s ARFF Fire Fighting apparatus, E-ONE Titan, Oshkosh Striker and Rosenbauer Panther, have more bells, whistles, sirens, and gadgets than Carter’s got liver pills. However, the apparatus manning has been reduced primarily in part due to the enhanced engineering and scientific improvements that have been incorporated into the ARFF apparatus.

At airports today, passenger planes loaded with 300 plus passengers, increased aviation fuel loads and more, have demanded Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting meet firefighting requirements with an apparatus that will handle the worst catastrophic event. However, as I mentioned before, the reduction in ARFF apparatus manpower with the modernization of ARFF apparatus have placed more responsibility on the Aircraft Rescue Firefighter with a vast array of functions incorporated into an ARFF Fire Fighting apparatus. Which brings us to the firefighter this article is about, specifically, the ARFF Apparatus Driver/Operator.

The ARFF Fire Fighting Apparatus Driver/Operator operates the turret and bumper nozzle(s), under response stress conditions, while simultaneously positioning the ARFF apparatus to attack the fire, avoiding aircraft crash debris and crash victims on the ground. Under less than optimum conditions at night or reduced weather conditions, the risk greatly increases. Under response stress, ground objects and passenger victim(s) on the ground could be missed, and have been missed, because the apparatus driver/operator can be tunnel focused on the immediate danger, fire. The driver/operator is performing under a workload involving too many tasks.

Airport Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Department apparatus driver/operator firefighting duties and responsibilities, operating the turret, bumper nozzles need to be reassigned to an ARFF Fire Fighting Apparatus Turret/Bumper Nozzle Operator who can concentrate on aircraft firefighting. Not the ARFF apparatus driver.

Furthermore, if the ARFF apparatus driver/operator is operating the turret and bumper nozzle(s), who is operating the ARFF apparatus instrument panel controls to nurse and replenish the agent and water tanks? Shutting down when the agent and water have depleted, approximately 2 minutes, to nurse the apparatus is not the best option. Aircraft involved in a crash are still burning after two minutes in some cases.

IFSTA and NFPA standards need to be rewritten to remove the ARFF driver/operator qualification, duties, responsibilities for operating the ARFF apparatus turret and bumper nozzle(s).

Revise the IFSTA and NFPA manual(s) to assign ARFF Apparatus Fire Fighting Turret/Bumper Nozzle(s) duties and responsibilities, currently assigned to the ARFF Apparatus Driver/Operator, to an ARFF Apparatus Turret/Bumper Nozzle(s) Operator.

Because of past incidents involving crash victims being run over by an ARFF apparatus, airport ARFF departments might want to consider position a communication equipped advance firefighter ahead of the apparatus to alert the ARFF Apparatus Driver of ground victims and crash debris in the vicinity. An advance firefighter can request assistance to move the victim(s) to the triage area via communications, thereby allowing the driver/operator to advance on the fire/crash site safely.

Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting techniques and operations need to continuously improve to protect firefighters and those whose lives depend on firefighters.


About the Author:  M. A. Nolan Sr. is a retired Aircraft Fire Fighter, ARFF Apparatus Driver and Aircraft Fire Fighting Instructor who’s work assignments included:  ARFF Firefighter, Rescueman and Apparatus Driver at Naval Air Facility, Naples, Italy;  ARFF Fire Fighting Section Leader (Military equivalent of ARFF Crash Captain) Naval Air Station, Cecil Field, Florida;  ARFF Fire Fighting Section Leader (Military equivalent of ARFF Crash Captain) Naval Air Station, Moffett Field, California;  Aircraft Fire fighting Instructor, Naval Training Center, Mayport, Florida.  In between assignments to the ARFF units I mentioned, Mike has worked on the flight deck of five aircraft carriers, USS Intrepid, Randolph, Coral Sea, Ranger and Saratoga during his twenty-two-year military career. He has fought several aircraft crash fires on the carriers as well as naval installations.