Interconnecting Through ARFF

At Boston, planning, collaboration, and training are helping to set a new standard.


EAST BOSTON, MA - Each day at Logan International Airport begins with roll call and then an airport community meeting known simply as 'the 8:30.' According to Chief Robert Donahue of the Massachusetts Port Authority Fire Rescue Department, this is simply one of the ways the airport and all of its systems are working to harmonize operations, safety, and security. The 8:30 allows all the "systems" at the airport to gather, review the operations of the previous 24 hours, and prepare for the next 24. "The Donahue, who has served as a firefighter for some 25 years and the last 2-1/2 years as chief of the Massport Fire Rescue Department at Logan Airport, says that another benefit of these meetings is "we all know each other on a firstname basis. If someone's got a problem or an issue with the fire department, pick up the phone and call me, or you're going to see me tomorrow."

The airport's efforts in terms of collaboration and community, both internally and externally, are setting a new industry standard. "In all my years with the NTSB, I have never seen an airport so proactive to engage a community," says John Goglia, former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. "It's refreshing to see airport-led community proactiveness. [Logan] is so far out in front with family assistance and community outreach, they need binoculars to see number two."

Boston Logan sees some 1,200 aircraft movements and 100,000 to 120,000 passengers each day. A sixth runway is scheduled to open this year and passenger projections, according to Donahue, show capacity increasing. "There's a direct correlation between emergency activity and x-number of million passengers," he says. In 2005, the department delivered on some 3,800 emergencies, which breaks down to ten to 12 calls each day; 60 percent of those are emergency medical calls.

Some 100 individuals serve on the Boston Logan Fire & Rescue Department at three rescue stations located around the airfield. The department has 18 emergency response vehicles and vessels (boats).

Because of Boston Logan's location in Boston Harbor, when the airport holds a training exercise, it includes landside, airside, and water aspects.

"Comprehensive emergency management starts with prevention," says Donahue. "The drills and multi-agency exercises that we do here far exceed the minimum regulatory requirements."

Structure Change Leads to a Change in Thinking

The role and responsibility of the fire rescue chief at the airport have changed "dramatically" since 9/11, says Donahue, from "just being a fire chief to being an architect and a mechanic of systems."

Thomas Kinton, aviation director for Boston Logan and acting Massport CEO, changed the organizational structure at the airport, elevating the police and fire chiefs to his senior staff. "Historically," says Donahue, "police and fire services were buried down in many layers of the organization. And [yet], airport managers and directors quickly say, ‘safety and security are the most important things to me.' It is, but yet, we're going to stick you down here."

The benefit and value with the new structure, says Donahue, is that it causes him to "think way out of the box - not just look at my area of responsibility." This helps Donahue identify strategies and ways that he and his staff can better understand and support the mission and functions of the airport, he says.

For example, Donahue says, "We understand that we're an O&D (origination and destination) airport and that has a profound impact on emergency planning."

Some 85 percent of the traffic through Boston Logan is O&D, meaning that family assistance planning is critical to Donahue and his staff. "If you're a hub airport, you're not going to be confronted with families in the early stages of an event; but, at an O&D airport, you are. We're dealing with the families, the meeters, and the greeters moments after a crisis." Boston Logan has plans in place to service, protect, and meet the needs of people before other agencies, including the airlines, Red Cross, and National Transportation Safety Board can arrive. "We've surveyed our airlines and found that that could be 10, 12, 18 hours. I'm talking about a critical time gap where these people need to be serviced."

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