Major accidents at airports are, mercifully, now very rare, but all involved have to be aware of the dangers and prepare for the worst. The first responders to any crisis are likely to be the gateway’s fire department. We look at the responsibilities and work of two such teams, at Munich in Germany and Denver in the US. We then consider just some of the fire-fighting vehicles on which they rely from the view of those vehicles’ manufacturers.
Munich International Airport’s Fire Department (its German acronym is AVF) operates a large fleet of fire and emergency vehicles. As of this year, that fleet incorporates: a total of 43 vehicles, including a Rosenbauer Panther airport fire engine, two Kronenburg fire engines, and a number of Ziegler Z8 fire engines.
The AVF logged mileage of 219,916km in just 2014 alone. But the airport authority is continuing to invest in new equipment for its fire department. For the coming year, for example, it is intending, to have all of its FLF Z8 Snozzles standardised by the manufacturer (for more on the Snozzle turret produced by Oshkosh of the US, see below) and to begin equipping its vehicles with digital emergency response radios. It has also ordered two new operations command vehicles and called for tenders in respect to a new auxiliary fire-fighting vehicle, with the option for four more vehicles of the same kind. The AVF is also rebuilding a trailer into what it terms a ‘logistics trailer’, complete with an AZ50 rapid response tent, heating, seating, a power supply and a toilet.
Thanks to the gateway’s integrated airside software, all of the AVF’s vehicles’ locations on the airport are displayed on the screens of air traffic control, the gateway’s traffic management centre and the fire department’s operational command post.
RESPONSIBILITIES AND CAPABILITIES
The AVF comes under the auspices of Flughafen München GmbH (FMG), the gateway’s operating company, as part of its Aviation Division (AV). It comes under the regulatory jurisdiction of the district government of Upper Bavaria and, according to the official notice of certification issued by that body, the AVF’s responsibilities include both fire-fighting and the provision of various forms of technical assistance. It also provides fire safety monitoring for any work carried out at the airport that might involve a fire risk, handles the decommissioning of all fire protection equipment and assumes fire safety responsibilities for all events held at the airport.
The approval permit of 22 April 2013 specifies a minimum on-site AVF presence sufficient to cover 42 functions with round-the-clock staffing. Two crew members are also kept in reserve for the department’s first responder vehicle.
To ensure the required level of safety at the airport, the AVF has two fire stations – one in the north and one in the south of the gateway’s grounds. The North Fire Station, with a crew of 11 fire-fighters, includes a fire-fighting unit that is responsible for the north runway and the adjacent taxiway system, Ramp 2 and Ramp 3, and general aviation. It also has a vehicle for addressing lesser alarms.
The South Fire Station, with 33 fire-fighters, is home to the southern fire-fighting unit which covers the southern runway, Ramp 1, the cargo ramp and the airport’s aircraft maintenance area. It is also the base for the unit that tackles any airport building or facility fires, which has two crews and specialist vehicles of its own.
The South Fire Station also houses the operational command post of the AVF, along with the management and administration support staff. Munich Airport is currently expanding the North Fire Station to maintain a third crew dedicated to structural/building fire safety.
The operational command post in the South Fire Station forms an integral component of the first responder chain at Munich Airport. It accepts and evaluates incoming calls under the 112 emergency number as well as automatic alarms (such as the automated fire detectors, hand-triggered alarms and sprinkler systems). Based on the location and nature of the alarm, the response co-ordination system notifies the required emergency responders and other relevant decision-makers.
Daily on-the-job training is a key component of the structured qualification and continuing training programmes of the AVF’s fire crews, confirms Andreas von Puttkamer, FMG’s senior vice president aviation. “The focus is on realistic drills on the handling of fire and rescue equipment, in particular in the form of fire-fighting exercises relating to both building and aircraft fires, various technical support measures and rapid-response life-saving efforts,” he notes.
There are numerous fire-fighting training facilities on the airport. For instance, a mobile fire simulation facility has been used to provide 130 trainees with realistic training in fighting fires in airport buildings.
COVERING THE GROUND
Boasting no less than six runways, Denver International Airport is the world’s second-largest airport by land area – it covers a total of 53 square miles (138.8 square kilometres). The airport is twice the size of Manhattan Island, and is larger than the city boundaries of Boston, Miami or San Francisco. Dealing with fires and numerous other sorts of emergencies across this enormous space is the work of the airport’s fire department, led by division fire chief Angela Cook.
The airport fire department is a division of The Mile High City’s wider fire department and Cook reports to the city’s fire chief. However, her budget comes from the airport operator (the City & County of Denver Department of Aviation).
Forming a key part of the airport’s fire department vehicle fleet are seven Oshkosh 8×8 Striker 4500 aircraft rescue and fire fighting (ARFF) units; the 4500 of the designation relates to the 4,500 gallons of water that the vehicle can dispense, while the vehicle also carries 600 gallons of foam and 45lb of dry chemical extinguishing agent for tackling a blaze.
These seven vehicles are distributed across four different fire stations on the airport grounds. The stations are located in such a way that at least one emergency vehicle can reach the centre point of any of the gateway’s six runways in just three minutes or less, and a full response of three apparatuses can reach any of the six runways within four minutes.
Supplementing these vehicles are three structural fire appliances (structural meaning airport buildings, terminals and so on, pretty much anything on the airport except aircraft), consisting of two fire engines and one fire truck (this latter vehicle is equipped with a tower and various other ladders). The fire engines, which carry up to 750 gallons of water, are much like those to be found in the fleets of landside fire departments, as is the fire truck. The airport fire department also has a range of other dedicated vehicles, including a Snowcat for winter operations, air stairs, a chief’s car and vehicles used by the gateway’s Special Response Team, which handles hazardous materials, rope rescues and other emergencies requiring specialised skills and equipment.
These vehicles are driven by members of the airport fire-fighting team that numbers 108 in total, and of which 29 are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All these individuals are highly trained and have huge amounts of experience, Cook informs. As a division of the Denver Fire Department that is regarded as something of an elite, she says that it’s very rare for any member of the airport team to have less than 10 years of fire-fighting experience.
“We have some of the very best people,” Cook enthuses, adding that it is crucial that this is the case. For, she notes, the work of the airport fire department is based around tackling “high-risk, low-frequency events”. In other words, her team tackles comparatively few blazes but, when they do, the fires can be hugely challenging and exceptionally dangerous, with many civilian lives at stake. “It’s critical that we have highly trained, well-prepared people,” she insists.
This point is reinforced with reference to the most recent large-scale emergency faced by the fire team at Denver International. In December 2008, a Continental Airlines B737 veered off the runway as it sped down the strip for take-off; the aircraft ended up in a ravine hundreds of yards off the runway, and on fire. The fire team responded quickly and, despite difficult, snowy conditions and poor visibility, was quickly on the scene. Prompt and brave work by the flight attendants ensured that all the passengers safely evacuated the aircraft, while the fire-fighters quickly went to work to douse the flames. Moreover, and highly unusually, fire-fighters also entered the burning plane to tackle the fire from within and to ensure that all the passengers had been escorted safely out of the stricken aircraft.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) subsequently praised the work of the fire-fighters and said that their efforts inside the aircraft had saved a good deal of evidence and consequently significantly helped their enquiry. No lives were lost in the accident, which was attributed in the main to a strong and gusty cross-wind.
Continental Flight 1404 certainly illustrated the value of the training that the Denver Airport fire-fighters receive, Cook observes. That they had been trained to fight a fire inside as well as outside an aircraft was certainly an obvious benefit; such training and use of the tactic has become much more the norm now, she says.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires airport fire departments to train their fire-fighters on 11 different topics each and every year, as well as to take part in a live aircraft burn exercise. At Denver, all fire-fighters go through those 11 topics at least every six months, Cook says, as well as training on at least two live ‘burns’ every year on an aircraft mock-up (on which a range of different fires can be created to offer different training challenges). The airport fire department also hosts visitors from other fire-fighting teams – from elsewhere in the US or abroad – wanting to train on the department’s mock-up and other facilities. Meanwhile, the Special Response Team undertakes its own specialised training.
The airport’s fire department responds to between 3,000 and 4,000 incidents a year, Cook informs. These range from false alarms to standing by for potential emergencies to major incidents. One thing that very much sets airside fire-fighting apart from landside fire-fighting is the number of calls that are answered of a precautionary nature, she notes. Fire appliances are called out if there is a potential problem for an aircraft; landside, units respond only to actual incidents in progress. As well as fire alarms and proactive, precautionary calls, the fire department will also be contacted for a range of emergencies including rescues and medical problems. For any major structural conflagration, the airport fire department’s own team can be reinforced by colleagues from the wider Denver Fire Department.
That extensive inventory of vehicles that the fire department at Denver International operates is soon to be reinforced further. A second fire engine was added to the structural fire-fighting team this summer and a second fire truck for that unit is also expected to be acquired in 2020, five years from now. Both those vehicles will be housed in a new fire station, on which ground was expected to be broken as this issue of Airside went to press. It should be ready to house the second fire engine that was recently delivered by May or June next year.
No more additions to the ARFF fleet are expected, Cook confirms, unless and until Denver International goes ahead with building a seventh runway. But there are no dates for that as yet.
Should the ARFF fleet be extended, there is every chance that the new addition would be another Oshkosh Striker. While the airport will insist on a good price and value for money, there is a lot to be said for having consistency in fleet models, Cook points out, not just in easing training but also in such matters as spares holdings and maintenance requirements – not to mention allowing more easily for a high degree of fire-fighter competence on the single type’s use.
ARFF CAPABILITY: STRIKER
As we have seen, the Oshkosh Striker forms the bedrock of Denver Airport’s airport fire-fighting capability. It also equips numerous other airport fire departments around the world. Perhaps best known for its Striker ARFF unit, the Oshkosh Fire & Emergency division of Oshkosh Corporation includes Oshkosh Airport Products Group, LLC, and its vehicles have been operated in no less than 130 countries around the world, explains Jeff Resch, Oshkosh Airport Products Group vice president and general manager.
And its range of vehicles and equipment continues to be updated and improved, he observes. Some particular developments of which he is very proud have included the first Striker simulator recently purchased by one of Oshkosh’s big airport customers, Chicago O’Hare International. Resch and his team are keen to demonstrate the value of this new state-of-the-art training device to as many operators of the Striker as possible. The Striker Simulator safely trains crew for situations that it would otherwise be impossible or costly to recreate. The training programme can be configured as required by the customer, the simulator boasting customisable operating tools and graphics.
The utility of the Striker ARFF has also been improved by the ongoing development of the Snozzle® High-Reach Extendable Turret (HRET), which features an extendable boom of 50 or 65 feet. The Snozzle offers fire crews sufficient range to fight fires on both sides of an aircraft from any single vehicle, while still being of sufficient dexterity to fight fires within a burning aircraft through its small over-wing exits. That accessibility has been further improved of late through modifications in the design of the Snozzle tip to make it even smaller. The system’s programming and wiring has also been made more user-friendly, alongside an improved capability for even closer control of the Snozzle from inside the ARFF vehicle. “We’re looking to continue to make it more dependable, more reliable and even easier to use,” Resch explains.
Plus, new high-pressure delivery systems have also been introduced to offer fire teams the ability to direct water at higher pressures. Oshkosh now offers a patent-pending high-pressure water system that can deliver water under 600 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure at 60 gallons per minute (gpm) through one of the vehicle’s hoses – the norm is 240psi – as well as an ultra-high-pressure system that delivers 1,250psi through each of the hoses on the vehicle. The United States Air Force has already ordered 20 Striker vehicles with the latter capability, the first tranche of which are now being manufactured.
Another of the big suppliers of airport fire-fighting vehicles is Leonding, Austria-headquartered Rosenbauer. At the InterSchutz 2015 International Exhibition for Rescue, Fire Prevention, Disaster Relief, Safety and Security, held in Hanover/Germany earlier this year, Rosenbauer introduced its fourth-generation Panther product line-up. The 4×4 and 6×6 models are now available, while the 8×8 model is planned for introduction in early 2017.
The new Panther represents a completely new line of vehicles. The chassis and body have been completely redesigned to fit the needs of airport fire-fighters for the next decade, Herbert Poellinger, senior vice president and head of Rosenbauer Asia, Pacific, explains.
INDIVIDUALITY AND EXCELLENCE
Each of the fire-fighting vehicle manufacturers offers something a little different and, unsurprisingly perhaps, each considers itself unsurpassed. At Oshkosh, Resch enthuses, “We’re very proud of our products. We think that they are the best in the world.”
But Oshkosh Airport Products has another ace up its sleep, he notes. As part of the multi-billion dollar Oshkosh Corporation that is active in so many vehicle markets, its Airport Products group can benefit from the combined knowledge and skills of more than 500 engineers and an R&D budget that amounts to more than $140 million this year alone.
“We can leverage off the technologies coming through in various parts of the whole business,” Resch points out. By way of example, he points to the TAK-4® suspension system employed by its ARFF vehicles that came from the military segment of Oshkosh. It might be a long way down the road, but successor vehicles to Striker may even make use of the driver-less technologies being researched by Oshkosh. The Airport Products wing can also make good use of Oshkosh’s expansive test facilities, which include a test track with tilt table and other demanding obstacles.
As for Rosenbauer, “Early on, we recognised that not only reliability, functionality and durability were very important to airport products, but also that the design and looks of the vehicle has a major impact on its success,” Poellinger says. “Therefore, one major difference we have to many other players in the market is the holistic design approach we take to such equipment.
“As such, we are certainly associated with good-looking airport fire trucks. But as often in life, beauty is not everything. Rosenbauer is, when it comes to ARFF vehicles, a complete provider. We build the chassis, the cab, the fire-fighting system, the water/foam tank and the body in our own factories. This allows us not only to engineer and fine-tune the individual components to perfection, but also gives us a serious advantage when it comes to after-sales and life cycle cost. Most of our long-term customers find this is the biggest advantage to operating Rosenbauer trucks, because – whatever challenge arises – Rosenbauer will solve it,” Poellinger adds.
Ongoing product development at Oshkosh includes the modernisation of the Airport Products division’s 8×8 ARFF vehicle, to bring it more into line with the design and capabilities of the 6×6 Striker. A prototype of the new design is expected to be ready next year.
Elsewhere, Oshkosh is now producing a new vehicle, the Striker AT (AT stands for Aircraft Transportable), which has been sold to the Australian Department of Defence. The airmobile vehicle will have a new suspension system that will allow it to ‘kneel down’ for boarding one of the Royal Australian Air Force’s Globemaster III C-17s or C-130s.
Finally, Oshkosh Airport Products has an order from the US Marine Corps for the replacement of its ageing P-19 fire trucks. A total of 160 have been ordered.
“Safety is one of our major R&D focuses at the moment,” informs Rosenbauer’s Poellinger. “We have analysed many tragic incidents of recent years in aviation fire-fighting and have spent considerable R&D efforts to improve the safety of our vehicles; we have also invested in safety features surrounding the incident site.” Anti-collision radar and active and passive vehicle stability systems are among the newly introduced safety systems on the latest Rosenbauer Panther.
THE MARKET, TODAY AND TOMORROW
“The market has been, and remains, consistent,” is Resch’s summation of conditions right now. Demand didn’t fall away even in the worst of the economic downturn, he suggests – given the unbending legislative and moral requirements for airport fire vehicles, they are a ‘must-have’ even when finances are strained.
Where Oshkosh has seen demand increase is from developing nations, especially in Africa and South-east Asia. It has recently sold vehicles into Indonesia and the Philippines, for example. One reason why demand for Striker may be increasing in these developing countries is those nations’ increasing disposable wealth; another might be the flexibility that Striker has to fill differing regional and national requirements. “This flexibility allows us to reach into global markets,” Resch notes.
Customer demands are ever-changing, of course. A particular trend that Resch has identified is that purchasers are looking for equipment that is easy to operate and simple to train upon. That has been one of the themes of recent upgrades to Striker, he says. “We have cut down on the number of switches, and also made it more ergonomically friendly and easier to use.”
Another trend, but one that perhaps militates against the above, is the demand amongst many customers for their ARFF vehicles to have the capability to fight more than just aircraft fires – terminals and other airport facility fires also have to be tackled. So, Resch observes, Oshkosh has added new functions and extra capabilities to Striker, including additional ancillary equipment.
But, he notes, probably the most dominant theme remains customers’ unchanging need for value for money. Certainly, funds are tight everywhere, but customers from the developing world especially require the highest levels of cost-effectiveness in their ARFFs.
Rosenbauer has also seen steady demand in developed markets, and growing demand in emerging markets. Thus: “Although overall we are happy with the demand and our position in the market, we do see budget shortages and demand for cost-effective solutions. Our recently introduced Panther S 6×6 as well as the new Panther 4×4 and 6×6 correspond well to these market conditions,” explains Poellinger.
“Newly introduced concepts like our Escape Stairs E5000 and E8000 are well received in certain markets where operators go beyond the minimum International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) requirements,” he continues. “Escape Stairs were not much used ten years ago and by providing customers such systems with multiple functionalities, we created increasing demand for them.”
And, with respect to ARFF trucks, “Higher performance and safety features have been demanded and Rosenbauer has responded well to these demands,” Poellinger adds.
He agrees with Resch in terms of the price sensitivity of ARFF customers. “Cost efficiency will be certainly a driving force in the future, but in many cases it will not only be the procurement cost of the machines but rather the life cycle costs and the after-sales service. We already have introduced into many markets various after-sales solutions to respond to these demands, and will further improve such services.”
Finally, vehicle technology will continue to evolve around emission requirements as well as performance and safety, Poellinger believes. EURO 6 will be mandatory for many markets, for example, he suggests.