Preparing ARFF Crews for the Future

Preparing ARFF Crews for the Future

Instructor Ben Sokol explains the challenges first responders face on the airfield

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

Earlier this summer, a plane experiencing a landing gear collapse at Miami International Airport had to make an emergency landing, leading to a post-crash fire on the plane’s right wing.

The emergency was an important reminder of the need for properly trained and equipped first responders on the airfield.

Ben Sokol, the program instructor of the ATW Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting Center at FVTC, was a guest on the AviationPros podcast, where he was asked to talk about what airports need to think about right now to feel confident that their ARFF team is ready for a major incident like the one in Miami. Here is an excerpt from that conversation.

(Q): My first question is, let’s talk about a little bit and tell me about some of the common challenges that our teams face when responding to an incident and how an underprepared crew might not be able to properly address these challenges.

Ben: One of the main challenges that we face in aircraft firefighting is personnel; making sure that we have adequate personnel and they're properly trained and ready to respond, as it is sometimes a little bit of a challenge to make sure we have the right people in place and they're not only trained but comfortable with their equipment and how to respond, and they're very familiar with the plan based on what we're responding to.

The other common challenge can be simply access to the scene. Most of us that work in airports, we're very familiar with our airfield and surrounding area. And we think about those taxiways and those runways that we can normally drive down to get to an emergency scene. But in an emergency scene, depending on what we're faced with, some of those avenues may not be accessible to us. They might be blocked by debris, evacuating passengers, or other vehicles. The wind could be driving smoke, where it's not a safe avenue of approach. So thinking about, and preparing for accessing different parts of your airfield and the surrounding area from different routes, is very important. Having not only your primary but your secondary or complementary access routes and standby locations is going to be very important, and making sure that everybody is aware of those routes and knows exactly where they're supposed to go, given the incident that we're facing. Those are really common challenges.

Most aircraft apparatus is going to have a certain amount of water, foam and complimentary agents, whether that's dry chem or clean agent on them, and getting resupplied is often a challenge. Most airfields do not have much as far as water resupply. So you could have a 1500-gallon truck that we can refill that water tank two or three times, to be able to use up all of our foam and be able to sustain that fight and create that rescue path. But once we run out of that 1500 gallons, how do we resupply? So we have to train and have a good plan with our mutual aid or automatic response from outside the airport to make sure that we can get resupplied, and make sure that we continue to fight. That’s going to be a bit of a challenge. Sometimes some airports are located in areas where they just don't have a lot of mutual aid or automatic aid nearby. That could be a ten or 15-minute response for those outside agencies.

Another common challenge is going to be familiarity with the aircraft. Sometimes we get these emergencies, and it's not an aircraft that we're overly familiar with which can cause a little bit of anxiety while you're responding, because it's not an aircraft that you just know inside to know because you've been studying it and working around it for quite a while. So knowing the basics of the category of aircraft and the common challenges with that aircraft and having a good plan for an unknown aircraft is going to be very important for us to be able to overcome those challenges, and make sure that we are prepared if something like this does happen.

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