Airport fire department vehicles must be prepared for many tasks: they must be ready for all sors of emergencies besides being on hand for preventive fire protection. They may have to operate off hardstanding as well as on airport stands, runways and taxiways, and carry and deliver large amounts of firefighting agent quickly and effectively. Their availability is also, of course, a legal requirement for airports to operate
Leonding, Austria-based Rosenbauer describes itself as the world’s leading manufacturer of systems for firefighting and disaster protection. It offers vehicles, fire extinguishing systems, equipment and digital solutions for professional, industrial, plant and volunteer fire services, and the airport market is an important one for the company.
In fact, Rosenbauer offers a large range of firefighting vehicles that are specifically designed for airport operations. These include command vehicles, its Rapid Intervention Vehicle (RIV), escape stairs and the BUFFALO aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) vehicle, as well as its flagship PANTHER ARFF.
Philip Platzl, Rosenbauer’s global product manager for airport rescue and firefighting vehicles, notes that the group offers a comprehensive range of solutions for airports around the globe, demonstrating the value of its portfolio beyond vehicles and equipment in the area of digital solutions and simulators.
Its simulators, for example, enable more environmentally friendly operations, reduce training costs and raise the value of training to the highest possible level. Plus, its Connected Fleet solution digitises checklists, current deployment data, situational awareness and situation management variables, as well as providing an overview of the status of vehicles and components.
Another of the major players in the on-airport firefighting market is Wisconsin, US-headquartered Oshkosh Airport Products, part of the giant Oshkosh manufacturing group. Its flagship ARFF is its Striker vehicle, available in 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 configurations, while its Stinger rapid intervention vehicle is designed to respond to firefighting, hazardous materials (hazmat), aircraft rescue and other emergencies.
All its ARFF vehicles offer “innovative fire suppression technology, unmatched chassis performance, advanced safety systems, smart design, and unsurpassed reliability and durability”, the company says.
Jack Bermingham, business unit director at Oshkosh Airport Products, explains that ARFF vehicles are a necessity for commercial airports around the world to meet minimum requirements set forth by various regulatory authorities. Because ARFFs are a ‘must-have’, airports have not shied away from maintaining their fleets and keeping them up to date whatever the impact of the pandemic on flying passenger traffic and, consequently, on airport operational intensities.
That said, “Airports did some slowing or postponing of fleet replacements through the beginning of the pandemic due to challenged budgets from softer passenger traffic,” he says.
More positively, though: “We have seen various geographical areas begin to rebound as passenger traffic begins to normalise to pre-pandemic levels. North America and Europe were the first regions to have passenger traffic rebound to pre-pandemic levels and as a result we have seen more market activity in these regions.
“We continue to look forward to supporting our customers’ needs by helping maintain their existing fleets and producing/delivering new vehicles with the latest technology.”
Rosenbauer’s Platzl has also seen a slow recovery in the market from the effects of the Covid pandemic. However, especially in Europe, high inflation and other economic factors are affecting confidence.
He agrees with Bermingham that, in general, the ARFF vehicle is a ‘must-have’ depending on the airport category, but adds: “We have noticed a stretching of vehicle lifecycles due to the investment freeze of many airports.
“In some cases, further investment in service and maintenance can bridge a few more years [before expensive procurements are made].”
Things have been more upbeat in the US, Latin America and the Middle East, Platzl continues, where there has been relatively consistent demand for firefighting equipment. Moreover, he is expecting to see a “normalisation” of the general global market within the next couple of years.
Evolving demand patterns
One of the major changes in the focus of those looking to acquire ARFFs and other firefighting equipment relates to sustainability, Platzl suggests. Indeed: “I think the global challenge of fighting climate change and the related initiatives in the aviation sector, especially those under the direct control of airport operators, will play a crucial role in the future.
“We gave our answer to this challenge at Interschutz 2022, the [fire and rescue service] industry’s leading trade show. Taking responsibility is at the core of our future success. We want to change the world of firefighting sustainably. That’s why we live sustainability in all aspects and why we also see ourselves as the first point of contact for decision-makers and opinion leaders in the firefighting industry.”
Rosenbauer’s portfolio of electrically powered products enables it to support customers in “the mobility revolution”, he continues. “In the ARFF segment, we have already been able to provide a preview of the future of ARFF with the world premiere of the PANTHER electric.
“The PANTHER electric is a concept that is now in transition to series development. We see the PANTHER electric as an all-electric airport firefighting vehicle. All functions such as driving or extinguishing can be handled purely electrically without compromise. An emergency back-up system (compact diesel engine) is available as a fallback level.”
Also at Interschutz, Rosenbauer presented a number of different systems that it expects will be very useful for those in the airport market. For example, it has worked intensively on the topic of extinguishing high-voltage battery fires. The battery of an electric vehicle represents a separate and new potential source of fire, with new challenges to emergency forces, Platzl points out. “With our extinguishing system, firefighters can safely, efficiently and quickly put fires out, because we cool the cells directly inside.”
Plus, in the field of robotics, Rosenbauer has expanded its product portfolio with the launch of its RTE Robot tracked ‘crawler’ vehicle, which takes firefighting “to a new level of safety”, Platzl says, noting that a robot can be used wherever a situation becomes too dangerous for humans.
For ARFF vehicles, technologies, available components and high-tech materials become available faster than the product life cycle of a fire engine, he notes. “Customer needs are increasingly derived from pioneers in the tech or automotive industry, while at the same time meeting classic fire department requirements, such as fail-safety and worst-case scenarios. As a result, there is constant adaptation and further development throughout the life cycle.
“Together with our customers – the users who offer their feedback – the PANTHER embodies precisely this ability to constantly improve, even within the current generation,” he concludes.
Oshkosh’s Bermingham considers that the ARFF industry “continues to learn, grow and develop together. When a rare and unfortunate aircraft incident occurs, the ARFF industry collectively educates each other to continuously improve.
“Our Oshkosh Airport Products team listens to the industry’s needs and works hand in hand with our customers to offer technology solutions which support airport fire departments and their ever-changing environment.
“In recent years, we have seen airport fire departments faced with labour challenges like most other industries and job sectors. As a result, there are new firefighters being trained to operate these large and complex pieces of machinery.
“Our team of engineers continues to develop and optimise our Command Zone® controls to make sure the operations of the Oshkosh Striker ARFF vehicle are as easy and intuitive as possible. And in 2022 we introduced a new cab design providing an updated driver’s cockpit which optimises the placement of controls so as to be more ergonomically and logically located, allowing operators to focus more on the mission at hand.”
Like Rosenbauer, Oshkosh Airport Products is also working on more sustainable firefighting options, and an entirely new Striker is being developed as a greener variant of current vehicles. The Striker Volterra ARFF recently completed an extensive road tour through the UK and continental Europe and, says Bermingham, “This tour provided airport fire departments around the world with an opportunity to experience this vehicle’s revolutionary capabilities of full electric driving with reliable hybrid emergency response systems.”
He explains: “We were able to gain valuable product feedback from end users during their immersive hands-on experience with the apparatus. The Striker Volterra ARFF meets all NFPA 414 and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards and our fully electric range testing exceeded all expectations.” The non-profit National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 414 lays out an industry standard for aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles in terms of design and performance.
The Volterra will, Bermingham concludes, “enable most airports to operate all of their non-emergency driving in fully electric mode and further reduce their airport’s carbon footprint”.