Due to the mass casualty potential of an aviation emergency, the response time for equipment and personnel is vital. Their arrival and initial mission to secure the aircraft against all hazards, particularly fire, increases the survivability of the passengers and crew on board.
This special category of firefighting is called Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF).
Their responsibilities include rapid response, hazard mitigation, evacuation and possible rescue of passengers and crew from an aircraft involved in an airport ground emergency.
Airports may have regulatory oversight by an arm of their individual national governments or voluntarily under standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Airport firefighters have advanced training in the application of firefighting foams, dry chemical and clean agents used to extinguish burning aviation fuel in and around an aircraft in order to maintain a path for evacuating passengers to exit the fire hazard area. Further, should fire either be encountered in the cabin or extend there from an external fire, ARFF responders must work to control/extinguish these fires as well.
SPECIALIZED FIRE EQUIPMENT
Specialized fire equipment and materials are required for ARFF service. Equipment design must meet standards of speed, water-carrying capacity, off-road performance and agent discharge rates. Since an accident could occur anywhere on or off airport property, sufficient water and other agents must be carried to contain the fire to allow for the best possibility of extinguishment, maximum possibility for evacuation and/or until additional resources arrive on the scene.
FIREFIGHTER PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT
Due to the intense radiant heat generated by burning fuels, firefighters wear protective ensembles that are coated with a silvered material to reflect heat away from their bodies, called a fire proximity suit. They also must wear self-contained breathing apparatus to provide a source of clean air, enabling them to work in the presence of smoke or other super-heated gases, such as when making entry into the burning cabin of an aircraft.
Secondary to the hazard mitigation and safe evacuation of ambulatory passengers is the need to perform rescue operations. Passengers unable to extricate themselves must be removed from the aircraft and provided medical care. This process is extremely labor-intensive, requiring both firefighters and support personnel.
Due to the nature of a mass casualty incident, rescue workers employ triage to classify the victims and direct their efforts where they can best affect survival.
Subsequent to the emergency being declared under control, the ARFF function reverts to one of protecting the scene, eliminating any peripheral or slowly evolving hazards and assisting to preserve the scene for investigators. In many cases the FAA will perform the investigatory duties but in instances where significant injuries or any fatal accident the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate and the ARFF contingent will assist where needed.
ARFF IN THE UNITED STATES
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates ARFF operations at all U.S. airports that serve scheduled passenger air carriers. These are the only civilian fire protection services that are specifically regulated by any governmental entity.
Airports required to have ARFF services are inspected at least annually by the FAA for compliance with FAR, Part 139.
Military ARFF operations must meet the mission requirements for their individual branch of the service.