Once upon a time in my previous life as a fire fighter in a medium sized New Hampshire fire department, we ‘covered’ a small municipal airport. My first day as a rookie on Engine 7 (called “Top Gun” for its unique cab controlled overhead turret) I was told the apparatus operator and the Officer would worry about that if anything should happen at the airport. I only needed to remember to grab the right preconnect so the engineer could flow the AFFF to the right nozzle and I could apply it. We went to the training grounds and my Officer and I laid down a layer of bubbles on the ground, flushed out the line, packed up, and went home. ARFF training checklist complete! Finally one day we responded for real. I followed the SOP; open the nozzle in a safe direction until the foam flows, then sweep to cover any fuel spilled as an even blanket without gaps! Here’s what they didn’t remind me to do – absent a huge fire risk (there wasn’t one the plane engine was now dead and the master switch cut off) – I really should have waited for the cockpit door to be closed. After unintentionally covering all the avionics with a great layer of foam I was reminded those bubbles eat electronics for breakfast – I just trashed his dash. Lesson learned, the wrong way. Even once I was sitting in the Officer’s seat 6 years later my ARFF knowledge base was still very lean.
That was about 20 years ago and many fire departments with or without an airport to cover may not do much better now. I am proud to say that the New Hampshire Department of Safety, Division of Fire Standards and Training and Emergency Medical Services now offers a well tested state of the art ARFF training program. According to a recent article in Fire Engineering author Steven Cobb stated “80 percent of aircraft crashes occur away from the airport.”. Municipal fire departments should be prepared for aircraft events regardless of whether or not they have an active airport in their area of responsibility. As professional fire fighters we should always strive to provide a safe, effective, and efficient all-hazards response – including aircraft related emergencies. Stay Safe – JWM