To Save Lives, Airport Crash Crews Must Learn to Operate by the Book
The airports in the region of the Port of New York and New Jersey form the world’s greatest civil air complex. Almost 45 million passengers were handled in 1977 by over 800,000 air carrier aircraft movements (over 2000 per day)—a volume of activity that demands the highest achievable level of aircraft crash/fire/rescue capability.
Unfortunately, local municipal fire departments do not have the specialized equipment necessary to fight aircraft fires. In addition, they are usually located remote from the airport with consequent excessive response times. Thus, the key to effective rescue and fire operations at airport emergencies is an on-scene, well-equipped and welltrained emergency crew. This crew must have an intimate knowledge of airport operations in addition to being expert at operating emergency equipment and in fire/rescue evolutions.
To this end, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, operator of LaGuardia, Newark International and John F. Kennedy International Airports, prepares and keeps current a detailed instruction manual entitled “Airport Emergency Crew Operations.” Nothing is left to chance. It is the dual purpose of this manual to be a primer for all new personnel assigned to emergency crews, and to be an available reference source once initial training is completed. The contents represent a compilation of accepted procedures used in the various phases of crash/fire/rescue. It is geared specifically to suit Port Authority’s specialized equipment, manpower and airport layouts. Specifically, the manual covers in great detail the following material:
Know your airport
Each emergency crewman must know his airport—and know it well. When the alarm sounds, there is no time to check location references or to ask for the best route to the emergency scene. Drivers must know the general terrain, obstacles, paved areas, and cross-country ground conditions. Moreover, they must be aware of the effect nearby structures or other impediments may have on the incident. Up-to-date knowledge of alterable airport operations and layout is imperative.
The Federal Aviation Administration Airport Traffic Control Division staff operates all control towers. The tower controls the movement of aircraft flying, taxiing, landing and taking off, as well as all surface vehicles operating in aeronautical areas. For this reason, drivers of emergency vehicles are instructed as to the functions and extent of aut hority of the control tower, as well as the method and techniques for intercommunication.
Fire and accidents involving aircraft in the air or on the ground can mean rapid destruction of expensive equipment, and more important, the sudden end to many lives. An aircraft emergency, therefore, must be handled expeditiously. To ensure this, several alarm systems have been established, many of them interconnected. The resuit is a warning signal, communicating to all those concerned with the emergency, the type of response required in terms of manpower and equipment.
Rapid, reliable communication is vital at an airport especially during periods of emergencies. Air and ground traffic need coordination and the various operations within the airport’s broad expanse must have swift instructions.
To answer this need, the control tower provides the center for the ground control radio. The Port Authority operates an “all facility radio system,” whereby all emergency vehicles are able to communicate on a choice of systems via their mobile transmitter-receivers.
Fast response vehicles
A rapid intervention vehicle, designed by Port Authority personnel, provides emergency crews with a fast, mobile truck, that can reach the scene of an aircraft emergency, and launch a massive quick knockdown attack on any fire that might develop, by means of the Purple K dry chemical or aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) turrets mounted on the front bumper.
Another vehicle is the Pathfinder, a fast, highly maneuverable, high-capacity (3750 gallons water, 442 gallons of protein foam concentrate) foam fire fighting vehicle designed to cope with large flammable liquid fires that develop from an aircraft accident.
In addition to the vehicle’s ability to get to the emergency quickly, the foam discharge system permits an immediate attack on a fire with a massive application of foam. A single 1800-gpm turret is mounted on the deck of the truck just behind the crew cab.
Although the crew will normally consist of two men, a driver and a turret man, there are seats in the cah to accommodate three additional personnel.
John F. Kennedy International Airport has continued to grow and develop over the years. As the number of terminals, hangar, cargo and administration buildings expanded, the number of people who work in or pass through these facilities has naturally increased. During peak periods, there are more people at Kennedy Airport than there are in many of the cities and towns in the metropolitan area. For this reason, two modular ambulances, fully stocked with emergency medical supplies and equipment, are available and staffed by airport emergency crew personnel.
At this time, LaGuardia and Newark International Airports have no need for an airport ambulance service. This function is adequately provided by local ambulance/rescue squads.
Fire science important
As aircraft grew larger, fuel loads and passenger capacities increased and traffic became more congested. As a consequence, the emergency crewman must become more and more knowledgeable about the science of fire, the materials used in the manufacture of aircraft, and the effect one may have on the other.
Aircraft designers must, of necessity, keep aircraft weight down while attempting to increase payload. As a result, the proximity of fuel and related fluid and electric lines, as well as flammable material used in the aircraft create a potential for problems that must be recognized by the crewmen.
The judgment and experience of a well-trained emergency crew is of primary importance in rescue and fire fighting operations. No one manual can anticipate every variety of aircraft crash or emergency at every airport. The accident and the course it follows can be altered by weather, terrain, aircraft design, fuel level, and the physical and psychological ability of passengers. Plane crew efficiency is another factor. The manual does present fire attack illustrations, highlighting several practical approaches and suggested procedures which can be applied generally.
The primary objective of the airport crash crew in an aircraft crash fire emergency is the rescue of occupants. However, in a large percentage of airline accidents, fire develops upon impact. Thus, the emergency crews are faced with two tasks that must be accomplished with maximum speed: rescue of survivors and control of the fire.
In many instances, fire fighting must begin before rescue is attempted. This does not mean, however, that rescue activities must be deferred until complete extinguishment has been accomplished. The rescue operation must begin as soon as the fire fighters have established a safe rescue area. Rescue activities can then be carried on while the fire fighters continue to secure the critical area on all sides of the fuselage.
Emergency crews assigned to Port Authority airports are provided with breathing apparatus and protective clothing that is worn during fire emergencies. This equipment ensures, to the highest degree possible, that the fire fighter can carry out his fire fighting and rescue duties. If the wearer realizes the limitations of his equipment, he will be able to work safely in a crash-fire situation.
Both Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports border on large bodies of water. As a result, it is conceivable that an aircraft could make a crash landing in the water. Although direct responsibility for water emergencies rests with local municipalities and the Coast Guard Air-Sea Search and Rescue units, the Port Authority has equipped Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports with rescue boats. These boats carry flotation gear that allows survivors in the water to remain afloat until they can be towed ashore or picked up by larger boats.
This manual is the nucleus of the Port Authority emergency crew training program. The information contained, used in conjunction with the hot fire and ongoing daily training, prepares our crews for the day that all concerned hope never comes.