Aircraft Interior Access Vehicles for ARFF

Posted: 16 June 2006 | Dan Pierce, Airport Safety Officer, Los Angeles World Airports | No comments yet

Today, there are more commercial passenger aircraft flying than ever. In 2005, there were more than 11 million departures for U.S. air carriers alone – this is equivalent to approximately 31 thousand daily departures.

Today, there are more commercial passenger aircraft flying than ever. In 2005, there were more than 11 million departures for U.S. air carriers alone – this is equivalent to approximately 31 thousand daily departures.

In the event of emergencies, aircraft rescue firefighters (ARFF) must be prepared to respond quickly in order to save lives. If a fire should involve the interior of a modern-day airliner, new ARFF tools are in place to help those inside the aircraft that may have been incapacitated. New piercing nozzle technology enables airport firefighters to rapidly inject extinguishing agents into the interior of an airliner when open doors are not available. Although these agent application tools are useful in a limited capacity, they cannot physically remove endangered occupants from a toxic aircraft interior.

Aircraft interior access problem E

mergency slides create an obstruction for interior access. When airport fire-fighters need to make immediate access, the best platform to utilise is often the wing of the aircraft. Unfortunately the hatches above the wing that are used for emergency evacuation are smaller than the other doors used for regular ingress to the cabin. Structural firefighters have used aerial ladder trucks for many years to access upper levels in buildings in order to perform rescue and fire suppression.

Passengers incapacitated in today’s commercial passenger aircraft are subject to greater threat than persons in contemporary building occupancies.Additional risk is imposed by the following:

  • A lack of cabin fire protection systems
  • Aircraft construction that is very different to building construction for large occupancies
  • Narrow aisles
  • No smoke dampeners or smoke ventilation systems
  • Confined space
  • Large amounts of jet fuel

Confined cabin space can mean there is very little time for airport firefighters to board an aircraft to affect a timely rescue. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard for ARFF interior fire attack mandates four minutes from the time of alarm to get water to the fire inside the aircraft. Generally, if an aerial ladder vehicle is not used, firefighters customarily use ground ladders to access aircraft main deck doorways. 20 ft / 7 m ladders are generally the largest ladders carried on ARFF vehicles.ARFF personnel require a specialised vehicle for main deck and upper deck access that can also be used to provide quick access to extinguish auxiliary power unit (APU) fires that have not been extinguished using the aircraft APU fire protection system. The compartment where the APU is mounted is located in the tail section of the fuselage and is difficult to access on large frame aircraft.

ARFF training for access

When an aircraft emergency occurs, airport firefighters use the skills they have learned in drills and other training. But are airport firefighters using the same techniques in training that they will use in the event of a real emergency when people’s lives are at stake? Airport firefighters should be exposed to a close facsimile of the actual conditions they will have to deal with in order to be properly trained. They must know how emergency evacuation slide systems can interfere with their ingress to the aircraft cabin.

New NFPA codes

The NFPA has recognised the important problems that these aircraft present for airport firefighters. The NFPA ARFF Technical Committee has recently written a new standard (tentatively scheduled to be published in September 2006) in NFPA 414-Standard for Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Vehicles – 2006. This new standard has been written to provide some basic specifications for a new type of ARFF vehicle. It will be named, ‘Aircraft Interior Access Vehicle’ (AIAV). The NFPA committee determined that an aerial ladder design currently used on newly manufacturerd structural firefighting trucks is not optimised for aircraft applications. The vehicle performance is compromised to carry a very large ladder, other ground ladders and equipment. The shallow ladder incline would also give firefighters many problems ascending and descending the ladder with victims. The new AIAV must pass a tilt test. Successfully passing a 15-degree tilt test is important because vehicle stability is vital for offrunway/ taxiway incidents.

Boeing B-747 upper level access

The Boeing 747 has been with us for many years. Since 1966 passengers have paid extra to fly on the upper level, but may not have realised the added risk that is presented to them in the event of an aircraft fire or accident:

  • Increased risk of injury for an emergency egress
  • Limited access by emergency responders for rescue

In a recent accident involving a B-747 on Guam (August 19, 2005) passengers evacuated the aircraft using the emergency slides on the main deck. The upper deck slides were neither deployed nor laddered for access. Then, again, there were probably not any incapacitated victims on the upper deck that firefighters needed to rescue quickly. If there had been the ARFF crews would most likely have been limited to using the interior stairway for access.

Many people are amazed at the number of people that will be flying on the new Airbus A-380.What many people seem to be overlooking is the fact that the B-747-400 is already certified to carry 660 passengers. 550 people on the main deck and 110 on the upper level. (FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet #A20WE)

Airport firefighters have faced the problem of accessing the upper deck of the B-747 for a long time. Parking an ARFF vehicle adjacent to the aircraft and using a ground ladder for access for patient extrication is risky. Using the primary stairway for access to the upper level may seem to be the logical means for affecting a quick rescue. However, firefighters must first access the main deck. At this level they may experience difficulty getting to the stairway for rescue, while performing interior fire suppression simultaneously. This also takes more time. Remember, time is of the essence in an aircraft rescue. Incapacitated victims are in danger if the cabin environment is toxic and is not ventilated rapidly. If the stairs to the upper level are obstructed, airport firefighters must be prepared to use an alternative method. The spiral configured stairway found on older B-747 aircraft is even more challenging for airport firefighters to ascend/descend in a smoke filled cabin and difficult to use to remove a stabilised patient on a backboard.

Let us not forget about cargo aircraft. Flight crews on the upper deck of a cargo B-747 are at greater risk than the flight crews on a similar passenger aircraft. The protective metal cover that shields the crew from the main deck also blocks ingress/egress to the upper deck. This cover is generally locked under flight conditions. This will be a problem for airport firefighters attempting interior crew rescue.

The B-747 will be flying far into the future. The new B-747-8 is the latest design by Boeing that increases the capacity and performance of the B-747-400 model. Boeing estimates the aircraft to be flying at least to the year 2030.

Airbus A-380

The Airbus A-380 will possibly be in operation by Autumn, 2006. The A-380 magnifies problems for upper deck access by airport firefighters when compared to the B-747.

Recently, in Hamburg, Germany, under controlled conditions, 873 persons successfully evacuated the A-380 using only half of the available exits in less than 90 seconds. There were 33 injuries. Most of the injuries were minor. One person sustained a broken leg.

Misinformation from Airbus

The new Airbus A-380 will present even greater challenges for airport firefighters to make cabin access, especially to the upper deck. Airbus seems to be promoting the idea that all of the airports accommodating their new A-380 will have specialised vehicles available to make access to the upper deck of the new aircraft by emergency responders. This is not true. Airbus is also promoting the idea that airport firefighters can climb ropes attached to the emergency slides to access the main deck and upper deck of the aircraft. Ascending an emergency slide by using an attached rope? In reality, this is not feasible.

Current technology available for main deck access

Today there are many choices for main deck access vehicles. One type of stair vehicle is manufactured by AccessAir. It has a 19 ft / 7.5 m reach and supports 2000 lbs on the platform. The platform is also very useful for supporting aircraft firefighters performing ventilation operations. This vehicle is a little short for reaching the 24.5 ft / 7.5 m sill of the upper deck of the B-747. It has been claimed that AccessAir is working on developing a new vehicle that will access the upper levels on the B-747 and A-380.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is also using a similar type AIAV. This type of airstair vehicle was very useful in the recent Midway Airport Southwest Airlines B-737 overrun in Chicago. The AIAV was used to help persons evacuate the aircraft while firefighters made entry.

In Palm Beach, Florida they are using a different design. Dragon 1 is a 1991 E-One Titan Crash Truck. It has an 1800 GPM pump; carries 2500 gallons of water; 300 gallons of foam; 300 pounds of Halon and has a 50 foot / 15.24 meter telescoping ladder. As with most crash trucks, it also has the ability to pump and drive at the same time. The ladder on the boom is very narrow and difficult for firefighters to easily utilise for rescue. This was a novel idea by the Palm Beach ARFF in adapting currently available technology for access into the aircraft cabin by using an ARFF vehicle that uses the boom to support a ladder.

Current technology for upper deck access

Scissor lift platforms are currently being produced to reach the upper levels of the B-747 and A-380. They are not readily available for ARFF application, which requires rapid deployment.
Frankfurt International Airport in Germany has been using an AIAV built primarily by Rosenbauer that is considered the perfect vehicle for emergency services to use for upper deck rescue and fire suppression (see photo). This vehicle not only provides stair access, but is also equipped with a fire suppression system and other tools.

Hamburg Airport is now using an improved Rosenbauer design. The Hamburg vehicle has three axles for additional stability and twin hose reels mounted near the top on each side of the stairway.

Some airports that are currently accommodating very large transport aircraft (VLTA) are simply using vehicles manufactured primarily for structural firefighting with some minor modification for ARFF. Chicago O’Hare International Airport is one airport that is using a Snorkel type bucket design. This is another good example of a structural firefighting vehicle being used for ARFF application. Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam is presently using a similar type vehicle.

Another vehicle designed for upper level access is produced by BAI. BAI is a subdivision of Pierce Manufacturing. This vehicle is in service in Italy. It is quite different in its design where ARFF personnel actually pass through the compartment to access the scissor lift platform for access. There is an unconfirmed rumour that BAI is developing a new design to access the upper levels of the B-747 and A-380.

Singapore airlines will be taking the first delivery of the A-380. Changi International Airport has contracted for the construction of two new AIAVs to be delivered some time in April. These new vehicles are the latest development in aircraft interior access vehicle technology built specifically for emergency responders to use on double-deck VLTA. The purchaser of this new AIAV has a choice of many different chassis builders to supplement the Rosenbauer designed stair system and fire suppression equipment. There are options for a bumper turret, automatic stabilisers and computer programmed stair height activation for different models of aircraft.

New concepts and ideas

There are a few new and interesting concept vehicle ideas that have been submitted on the Internet at These creative concepts use many new design ideas that range from a stairway that can be rotated, as in the Rapid Evacuation Deployment Instrument (R.E.D.I) design to an Oshkosh chassis lifting platform design.

I developed an idea that uses a heavy duty telescoping boom to raise the entire cab of the vehicle to the necessary door sill height. The vehicle carries forcible entry tools and spare self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottles. Firefighters may access the platform when it is elevated simply by using stairs that extend from ground level and traverse up the boom to the platform. Positive pressure ventilation equipment is also mounted to the platform/cab to clear smoke and other toxic gases from the aircraft interior. Twin hose reels are available on the platform. This vehicle does not require stabilisers.

The need for upper deck access for catering has prompted a new design for a scissor lift vehicle that is presently available from FFG. This vehicle has incorporated the latest technology that includes a satellite positioning system.

FFG will not deliver this vehicle to the U.S. but another company, STI, is manufacturing a vehicle in the U.S. that is similar. It is surprising that, to date, none of these vehicles have been ordered for use at any of the U.S. airports. The latest technology is now available to deliver a sandwich and a drink to the upper deck. Could this type of vehicle also be modified to be used for a life saving ARFF AIAV applications?

There are many airports (over sixty, to date, according to Airbus) worldwide that are currently planning to accommodate the A-380. Many more are currently accommodating the B-747. Although there is no mention of these specialised rescue vehicles by ICAO and the U.S. FAA for ARFF, their application for rescue and fire suppression on all commercial passenger aircraft, especially the very large transport aircraft double-deckers, is much needed by ARFF professionals to provide timely emergency life saving operations. Are these airports planning to provide emergency services for passengers and crew incapacitated on the upper decks of these aircraft, should an accident or fire ensue? Will airports be progressive and spend the money to provide these new tools for life safety?

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