Planning for ARFF and Mutual Aid


THE Lockport Township (IL) Fire District began its aircraft rescue firefighting (ARFF) program in 2006 as a result of assuming fire protection for the general aviation Lewis-Lockport Airport (KLOT) from the Romeoville (IL) Fire Department in 2003. It is the fourth busiest airport in Illinois with 120,000 takeoffs and landings per year.

As the ARFF coordinator, I was responsible for developing standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and response plans along with a detailed box card for different alarm levels. This box card was developed according to mutual-aid box alarm system (MABAS) guidelines (the designated format) and is revised as needed annually.

Once the SOGs and box card were developed, reviewed, and accepted, I covered both with each of our three shifts and chief officers for the entire department before implementing them. Now, more than four years since this was first done, the box card and SOG have been revised several times to improve our functionality.


Once we worked out the bugs internally, it was time to unleash our scheme on the outside world and invite our automatic- and mutual-aid companies in to test our response plan and SOGs to see if what was on paper would work in an actual incident. In 2009, we invited our automatic-aid (still alarm) tender from the Plainfield (IL) Fire Protection District and our mutual-aid (full still alarm) tenders from Northwest Homer and Lemont (IL) fire protection districts to participate in a water supply and simulated fire attack drill using a structural pumper and both of our ARFF rigs. Unfortunately, Lemont and Northwest Homer’s tenders were both down, so we instead invited Homer Township (IL) Fire Protection District to send its tender, and it did. As part of the training, we allowed all companies time in advance to review the SOGs; the box card; and handouts showing airport markings, runway designations, and so forth so they would know what to expect. We set aside three days in late June/early July to have all three shifts participate in the exercise. Plainfield and Homer also joined us all three days, which not only benefited our drill immensely but also provided some of their newer members a chance to run a water supply and shuttle drill.

Because Lockport operates six stations, the training coordinator and I divided the training into one morning and one afternoon session each day. This allowed three companies to train while the remaining three companies remained available to cover the fire district and allowed Plainfield and Homer to rotate crews out for each session. At the start of each drill, I conducted a quick classroom review of the airport layout and what we would be doing and what was expected. Because our ARFF units are cross-staffed and non-ARFF personnel may operate the ARFF rigs at any given time, we needed to include all personnel, not just those qualified in ARFF. After we completed an hour-long classroom session, we headed off in a convoy from our firehouse across from the airport to the section where we would be conducting the drill. Although there was a way to proceed to the drill site without entering the airfield property, I intentionally took all companies, including the outside departments, through the airport property and onto the airfield. They needed to see why it was important to recognize and identify firsthand such items as taxiway markers and the hold short lines. Because KLOT is an uncontrolled airport (i.e., it has no control tower), the rescues and I all maintained radio contact on the UNICOM radio frequency with departing and arriving aircraft so as not to cause any problems such as entering an active runway or causing an incursion.

Once all of the companies were in place, we began the drill. The structural pumper began flowing a handline (photo 1) to simulate fire attack while the ARFF rigs began their simulated attack. After allowing for the time it would take the Plainfield tender to arrive, that unit set up to supply its 3,000 gallons of water to Lockport’s pumper (1,000 gallons) and its two rescues (each 1,000 gallons) (photo 2). After Plainfield provided its first refill, the Homer tender “arrived” and began refilling the Plainfield tender. The plan calls for Plainfield to drop its 2,700-gallon portable tank, but because of a valve issue that was discovered during the drill, the Plainfield tender was unable to draft, so it nursed off the Homer tender. This was not a planned event but was easily overcome and demonstrated that if it had been an actual emergency, we would have been able to continue our water supply without issue.

(1) At the 2010 drill, firefighters put a hand-line into service to protect the interior crews performing search and rescue on the interior of the aircraft.
(1) At the 2010 drill, firefighters put a hand-line into service to protect the interior crews performing search and rescue on the interior of the “aircraft.” Water and foam application must be precise at an incident in which water supply is limited, especially when you are relying on companies coming from a greater distance. Practicing the drill in real time allows you to discover your limitations and overcome them. (Photos by author.)
(2) The Plainfield tender has
(2) The Plainfield tender has “arrived” and is establishing a fill line for the ARFF rig and for the attack engine. Plainfield’s 3,000-gallon water tank can fill each ARFF rig and the attack engine water tanks until the additional tenders arrive.

Another structural pumper was on a hydrant approximately half a mile away, which was to be used to refill the Homer tender. This is the “fill site” engine listed on the SOG and the box card. Once the Homer tender had refilled the Plainfield tender, the Homer tender left to refill at the fill site. While that unit was gone, the ARFF rigs came back and resupplied. This cycle was continued until enough water had been flowed to simulate using all of our foam concentrate (130 gallons on each ARFF rig and 100 gallons on our two foam pumpers). This was equal to supplying and flowing 14,000 gallons of foam solution at three-percent concentration. As an added bonus, once all of our non-ARFF personnel had driven and used the ARFF rigs for their training, we sent one ARFF member aboard and rotated the Plainfield and Homer crews through the ARFF rigs as a thank-you for coming out to help us. This was the setup for all three days.

On completion of the drill, we discovered not only that our plan was right on target but also that it went better than expected. We also learned that the Plainfield tender carries an additional 180 gallons of foam concentrate (a 100-gallon tank and 16 five-gallon pails), which increased our foam-making capacity from 14,000 gallons of foam to almost 20,000 gallons. In addition to the drill’s achieving our desire to test our plans, it also allowed participants training credit toward multicompany operations, mutual aid, ARFF operations, and water supply training. So, in essence, a three-hour drill resulted in our covering four topics without sacrificing quality for quantity. All in all, it was a beneficial day for all participants.


In what has become an annual event now, the multiagency ARFF drill was again scheduled for late June/early July. Once again, we invited and got the Plainfield, Homer, and Northwest Homer tenders to assist us. In 2010, though, we had our aircraft prop, a school bus for the companies to actually shoot water at and make rescues from. We already knew from the 2009 drill that our water supply drill was good, so this year we focused on having the personnel do an actual scenario. We conducted the drill in two parts (classroom sessions for all three shifts one week and practical scenarios in the next week), again conducting two sessions each day for all six companies and the mutual aid.

In the classroom session, we reviewed all of our procedures, standby maps, and new “resource book” (essentially a binder with all of our ARFF incident-related documents and cheat sheets for the companies to use when called on).

In the following week, we had practical scenarios. As before, the Lockport duty crews were split into two groups of three companies and the mutual-aid companies came to the morning and the afternoon sessions, each time with different crews.

The drill started with a quick classroom session to review the objectives of the scenario and to also go over the site plan with everyone. This year, however, we changed the location of the drill to a more remote area on the airport property that did not involve crossing any runways or taxiways. Although it may have seemed beneficial training to practice crossing active runways, the risk of untrained personnel with no capability to talk to active aircraft was too great. In the event of an incident, the runways would be shut down and/or an escort vehicle would be assigned to out-of-town fire companies. This location also was in a bad spot for placing apparatus and required the tenders to work at getting into position to supply the Plainfield fill tender. This was partially by design to make the apparatus operators work at getting into the proper positions instead of allowing them a wide open space in which to work. As a safety note, any time an apparatus was moved or had to back up, at least one spotter was made available to help guide it. Each of the Lockport companies rotated through three jobs: fire attack (engine), forcible entry/search and rescue (truck), and master stream application (ARFF rig) while the tenders kept the water coming (photo 3). Once again, the drill was a success; all department personnel had an opportunity to perform each function. Several of the mutual-aid personnel also joined the Lockport companies in the forward rotations as a thank-you for coming out.

(3) Because of the narrow road on which the training prop was placed, the attack engine and rescue had to work side by side while the Plainfield tender positioned behind the attack engine.
(3) Because of the narrow road on which the training prop was placed, the attack engine and rescue had to work side by side while the Plainfield tender positioned behind the attack engine. Because of the tight placement, the ARFF rig operator had to apply his stream precisely as crews operated in and around the training prop. Although it may seem dangerous to do (it is), proper water/foam application is necessary since people will be exiting the aircraft and fire personnel will be entering to make rescues.


To become better at what we do, several other Chicago-area ARFF coordinators, chiefs, and I formed a regional ARFF group that could train together and share ideas. This group consists of the Lockport, Sugar Grove, West Chicago, DeKalb, and Waukegan (IL) fire departments/districts in addition to several departments that run mutual aid with them.

In addition to conducting annual training together at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Lockport and Sugar Grove have teamed up to offer an annual 40-hour state certification ARFF class to any department that covers or is near an airport (photo 4). This year, we put 16 people from four departments through the program, which included a trip to O’Hare for the final practicals. The group has also started a Web site for sharing information, photos, videos, and training ideas. Anyone may view and use this information, and we encourage everyone to do so.

(4) Day 3 of the 40-hour ARFF class, hosted by Sugar Grove (IL) Fire Protection District, included response practicals in which vehicles were positioned and made an attack so rescue crews could enter and
(4) Day 3 of the 40-hour ARFF class, hosted by Sugar Grove (IL) Fire Protection District, included response practicals in which vehicles were positioned and made an attack so rescue crews could enter and “rescue” the occupants of the aircraft. Here, a Sugar Grove ARFF rig positions to cover the L1 door while the Lockport rescue simulates blanketing the aircraft with foam from the front of the aircraft. The engines were positioned to provide water to both vehicles as needed.

For the annual training at O’Hare, all personnel who attend go through all of the scenarios required under Federal Aviation Administration Part 139 live fire training. This includes a pit fire using the ARFF vehicle and the handlines, wheel and brake fires, and interior fires/rescues. After all those objectives have been covered, we conduct a real-time final scenario on the live fire pit involving a pit fire that the ARFF rigs must keep away from the egress door of the aircraft (photo 5). As that is being done, an engine crew deploys a handline to cut a path for the truck company to ladder the wing and make entry to the aircraft. On completion, there is a quick critique, and all companies are released to their respective departments.

(5) This is the beginning of the final practical at the regional training drill at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in October 2009.
(5) This is the beginning of the final practical at the regional training drill at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in October 2009. Two rescues protect the sector 1 and 4 sides of the aircraft before the other companies “arrive” on the scene. The objective is not to necessarily extinguish all fire but to protect the means of egress of passengers escaping from the aircraft.


Even though Lockport Township Fire Protection District is a six-station department with 23 people on shift each day, we realize that if we have an ARFF incident or other major call, our neighboring towns provide a vital component of our operational capabilities and are necessary for the incident to have a successful outcome. Just because our plan or our training worked this year does not mean that it will work again in the future, so it is essential that we continue training on a regular basis and sharing ideas.

Editor’s note: See the author’s previous ARFF articles in Fire Engineering: “Developing ARFF SOGs and Response Cards,” April 2010; “Establishment of an ARFF Program,” November 2010; and “Small Plane Crash Response in Illinois,” November 2011.

MICHAEL J. LOPINA is a lieutenant/paramedic with the Lockport Township (IL) Fire Protection District and commander of the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) Division. He is also Section 4 manager of the ARFF Working Group and is the owner of Firefighter Education Group, LLC, which provides ARFF first responder training and several other classes.


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