The FAA launched an investigation into allegations of “unqualified CFD personnel manning” specialized rigs that are mandated at airports

By Peter Nickeas
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the Chicago Fire Department and the city’s Department of Aviation over allegations of unqualified firefighters staffing specialized fire equipment used at O’Hare and Midway airports.

The FAA notified the city in late July it launched a probe into allegations of “unqualified Chicago Fire Department personnel manning” specialized fire department rigs that are mandated at airports, according to a letter from the FAA obtained by the Chicago Tribune. The rigs, sometimes called crash tenders, require specific training to operate.

An FAA spokesman confirmed the agency is “looking into issues regarding the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting unit” at O’Hare and Midway airports but declined to comment further, citing an open investigation.

A Chicago Fire Department spokesman declined to comment. A city Aviation Department spokesman also declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.

The letter informing the Chicago Department of Aviation of the investigation was sent to Commissioner Jamie Rhee and dated July 26, one day after the agency received information about the allegations, the letter said.

The FAA requested a list of Fire Department personnel who were qualified to work the airport-specific vehicles between the dates of May 1 and July 25, as well as a list of Fire Department personnel assignments with their vehicle numbers for each shift over that same period. The federal agency also asked for “details of the additional procedures” instituted by the Aviation Department after it was notified of the allegations and gave the city 10 days to provide any additional information deemed relevant.

“This matter is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration,” the letter stated. “If we do not hear from you within the specified time, our report on this matter will be processed for action without the benefit of your statement.”

FAA regulations state that the specialized airport crews “should have an internal training program which is used to initially qualify an operator, as well as continuous training to maintain and re-qualify.”

As part of its investigation, the FAA asked whether the Department of Aviation identified firefighters assigned to an airport rig who wasn’t ARFF qualified, whether the Aviation Department communicated that to the Fire Department and what action the two city departments took to correct the discrepancies.