By Chris Mc Loone
Welcome to ARFFResource.com. This site is dedicated to aircraft rescue and firefighting training, operations, and, of course, the vehicles ARFF firefighters use every day. Although these rigs and their crews spend most of their time at civilian and military airports, they have been called to help fight wildfires and are often requested by municipalities when an incident calls for large volumes of foam or other specialized extinguishing agent.
To kick things off on this new Web resource, I got in touch with Bill Greenwood to talk about what ARFF firefighters and rig operators should be doing every day when they start their shifts. In many ways, being assigned to an ARFF station is similar to any other assignment in a major fire department, but there are also some important differences.
Greenwood is a 25-year veteran in volunteer, paid-call, and career fire departments, and is the training chief with the Manchester-Boston Airport Fire Department. He’s a lieutenant with the Keene (NH) Fire Department and a senior staff instructor with the New Hampshire Fire Academy. Greenwood will be contributing his knowledge and insight into the ARFF world for ARFFResource.com.
ARFF stations typically run fewer responses than the rest of the stations in a fire department. It’s just the nature of the types of calls they respond to. The frequency of incidents is lower. What this means is that firefighters familiarizing and preparing their gear takes on even greater importance. “At the beginning of every shift, ARFF firefighters should be mentally and physically ready to operate,” says Greenwood. “Arrive early. Five minutes before shift change you’re 25 minutes late. Arrive early so that when shift change occurs, you’re ready to operate. You’re ready with uniform on, dressed sharp, and you’re taking your shift pass-on from the individual you are relieving.” According to Greenwood, the shift pass-on is critical because the run volume is slower. So, you’re going to get detailed pass-on regarding if the vehicle has moved or if firefighters have noted anything wrong with the vehicle. “Often with the shift pass-on if you have individuals who state that the vehicle hasn’t moved, you can fall into a trap where in reality that’s more of a red flag to make sure you go out and check the truck really well because it didn’t operate on a previous shift. So, the shift pass-on regarding tools, equipment, and apparatus operational readiness is critical from firefighters on the peer level.” This also includes getting equipment out and making sure your gear is 100 percent intact and ready to operate. Depending on the weather, Greenwood suggests having a “go bag” available with supplies to push through a longer duration incident.
If there is no morning line-up, ensure you check in with your duty officer to make sure they know you’re operational and ready.
Greenwood says that the operational readiness check for the ARFF truck is critical—and not only for the obvious reasons. “It is a requirement of FAR Part 139, the FAA requirements for operational readiness,” he says. “Making sure the apparatus is topped off and has all its agents and equipment that it’s required to have. Make sure nothing is missing. Make sure everything is operating and functioning properly and that the fuel levels are up to the minimum level that the department requires.” He adds that some fire departments do not require the truck to be operated for daily checks while others might do a check once a week.
Greenwood suggests firefighters operate the truck daily because with the lower call volume, firefighters need to stay in touch with the requirements of maintaining not only their skills but also the knowledge base of operating an apparatus like an ARFF fire truck. “It’s complicated,” he says. “Those trucks are much more complicated than the average structural municipal pumper that you’re taking to a call.” He says that many airport fire departments operate with reduced vehicle staffing where some operate with a driver only. The apparatus manufacturers have moved the steering wheel to the center so the driver can also reach the turret operator controls toward the right of the apparatus. “That’s compared with a DOD or military operation where staffing is at a premium and you might have four or five people on that truck where they have individual job functions. So, operating an ARFF truck in a civilian world isn’t just driving the vehicle. It’s a multitasking pump-and-roll piece of equipment that the driver needs to maintain his skills for on a daily basis.”
Another important check is the operational check for functional readiness of extinguishing agent streams, particularly the turrets that many ARFF rigs have. “These trucks pump large amounts of water at high pressures, and they have an extended reach where we can start flowing water and foam prior to arrival on the roll,” says Greenwood. “And, that extended reach gives us the ability to extinguish fire before we arrive, but if our turrets aren’t correctly set for the fog pattern or stream pattern that we are looking for, a straight stream pattern can be very dangerous to civilians that are egressing from the aircraft.” To help ensure civilians will not be injured, Greenwood recommends setting turrets to an optimum stream that is not a straight stream and not full fog but a 30- or 35-degree fog pattern so they have a little bit of reach. But if someone pops out of an aircraft and lands in front of the truck, the stream will not injure the civilian or damage the aircraft with a straight stream pattern that is flowing at high pressures. “So, the operational check for functional readiness for streams is a critical component of daily checks.”
After the check, the firefighter should restore the truck to full service and get it back in the building.
Once daily checks are done and they return to the station, firefighters need to stay in touch with the airport certification manual and the communications that are passed on daily called Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). These were originally developed for the airport, the control towers and the operations division to provide pilots flying in and out of airports with updated changes on the operational functions of runways and runway safety. “We’re not flying airplanes, but firefighters need to know what areas of the airport might be under construction or have limited access in case we have a problem,” says Greenwood. “So, making a quick note of the NOTAMS and if the airport has received any advisory circulars from the FAA is important.” Advisory circulars, according to Greenwood, come across on a regular basis. Some pertain to information related to ARFF and much of it is related to the operational function of the airport like airfield maintenance or runway safety.
Finally, the firefighter must report to the officer in charge any shortcomings or things found that were deficient in the vehicle he inspected. “Early warning that something is worn, broken, or not functioning properly is the best medicine for long-term maintenance of ARFF vehicles that are required to operate at an optimum level to make sure that not only the firefighters remain safe but also the flying public that demands the operational readiness of an ARFF crew and that they have equipment that is ready to go to take care of business.
CHRIS Mc LOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 24-year veteran of the fire service currently serving as a safety officer and former assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has served on past apparatus and equipment purchasing committees. He has also held engineering officer positions, where he was responsible for apparatus maintenance and inspection. He has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years.