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...

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.)

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