Remaking ARFF

By Armen DerHohannesian, GM, Armen DerHohannesian & Associates, LLC

In looking beyond recent security directives and federal legislation generated by the tragedies of 9/11, airports should also be reevaluating and rethinking the expanded role of Aircraft Rescue + Fire Fighting (ARFF) services in several areas, including preparedness and reactions to chemical and biological terrorism.

Even before 9/11, the face of airport safety and security issues was shifting. Nevertheless, 9/11, as well as subsequent terrorist acts, has changed how we should view airport security and safety.

This new paradigm stems from the fact that airport security and safety are intertwined. The ARFF mission no longer just involves its traditional role as we know it – e.g., responding to aircraft accidents and incidents –but has been typified, especially for ARFF Index C, D and E airports, by the following services:

• Emergency Medical Services;
• HazMat;
• Structural;
• Mutual Aid off-airport;
• Fire Inspection/Prevention/ Public Education;
• On-Airport Vehicle Accidents;
• Aircraft Water Rescue;
• Family Assistance Participation;
• Training of Airport Employees.

The ARFF mission is expanded due to the constant threat of terrorism. While mutual aid has taken on added significance, in all likelihood an airport’s ARFF department will be the first responder to an on-airport terrorist attack, not mutual-aid partners. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential that ARFF departments be properly trained and equipped to enable them to safely and effectively respond to these new issues: biochem threats (anthrax, etc.) and weapons of mass destruction (terrorist weapon /bomb/rocket attack).

Biochem Threats

ARFF’s role typically includes only the identification and containment of hazardous materials spills, primarily petroleum products, to isolate and contain that material. In more severe cases, ARFF can and has requested the assistance of off-airport HazMat response teams.

Now with the real possibility of threats such as anthrax or other agents being used by a terrorist, the bar has been raised.

Given the need for a speedy and effective response, including a quick identification of the agent, how many minutes from the airport is your mutual-aid partner? While outside assistance is needed now more than before, a word of caution: Consider the real possibility that the mutual-aid response team cannot respond, at least promptly, because it could very well be on another mission of equal or greater importance – that is, terrorists like to hit multiple targets simultaneously. As an airport operator, would you send your ARFF unit into a situation without the proper training and equipment?


We know terrorists have the capability of developing so-called "dirty bombs" or other weapons of mass destruction. If one were detonated at your airport, would the response team know what to do? Would they have the specialized equipment that would alert them to the presence of radioactivity? Do you know what type of equipment is available? What about mass decontamination equipment and procedures? For larger airports, thousands of persons could be affected. First responders need to be able to promptly and effectively detect the threat.

Landside Fire Stations

For many reasons, the concept of having a landside station has merit, but not just because of this new paradigm. In one respect, the need for a landside station has existed for some time, due in large measure to emergency medical services (EMS).

In a recent survey of 28 air carrier airports of all indexes conducted by the ARFF Working Group, 56 percent of the total number of responses (25,125) in 2001 were for EMS. Not surprising, but think of the time wasted by responding equipment to the terminal because they usually have to gain air traffic control clearance, as well as ’navigate’ around moving and stationary aircraft and ground equipment. (Consider the time it takes the EMS team to get to the terminal where someone is in cardiac arrest.)

The ability for an unimpeded rapid response by EMS to the terminal is enhanced by a properly located facility on landside and within the terminal complex if possible. Other missions could be served from a landside station, such as structural fires and terrorist attacks.

Training and Equipment

Training for first responders, consistent with the OSHA/EPA regulations typically involve the following:
• 40-hour Emergency Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents Course followed by at least an 8-hour refresher course;
• 24-hour training course in weapons of mass destruction and Integrated Emergency Response followed within a certain time frame by an 8-hour refresher course in WMD;
• Annual 8-hour course of Hazardous Material Operations (hazmat first responder); and,
• Baseline medical screening.

While there is the obvious need for first responders to receive the above training, an "awareness" program should be provided to other airport employees.

A list of equipment typically associated with a biochem or WMD event could include ...
• 60-minute SCBA tanks
• Smart Bio Detection Tickets
• Chemical Agent Detection Paper
• Chemical Agent Detector Kit
• Face Mask with Bio/Chem Cartridge
• Radiation ’monitor’ for emergency vehicles
• Radiation "S" pagers
• Level B HazMat Suits "Response Pack"
• Level A Encapsulated Hazmat Suits
• Decontamination System
• Bomb Search Suit with Bio/ Chem Visor
• Charcoal Hoods for Level B Hazmat Suits
• Nerve/Blister Agent Monitor
• Photoionization Device.

About the Author

Armen DerHohannesian has worked with airport planning and design for some 38 years. A consultant since 1975, he specializes in ARFF station planning and design, including aircraft water rescue programs. He is a founder and past president of the Airport Consultants Council and serves as co-chair of the working group tasked with rewriting FAR Part 139, relating to ARFF operations. He can be reached at