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Preparation is everything

Posted: 1 August 2012 | Chief David Y Whitaker, Airport Liaison Chief at Memphis International Airport and Chairman of the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Working Group | 1 comment

We have all heard the old adage that if you’ve been to one airport, then you’ve been to them all. However, airports are complex places and the size of the airport, scheduled aircraft, ARFF equipment, training, mutual aid, and jurisdictional boundaries all contribute to the differences. Exactly who is in charge or is responsible for each airport operation varies with each airport environment.

The same concept is true regarding aircraft fires, no two are exactly alike. First responders must prepare for every imaginable set of circumstances. Table top, functional, and full scale exercises will help educate and prepare the airport for many different scenarios. The time to make many of the overall incident management and jurisdictional decisions is during pre-planning as any issue that can be worked out before an incident will be one less hurdle to overcome during the event. The use of a Standard Emergency Response Pattern (SERP) as a template can help responding agencies with the overall geographic layout (see Figure 1). The pattern is primarily based on wind and terrain but also considers many external factors. When overlaying a diagram of a clock to the incident scene, down wind is at the 12 o’clock position. If possible, no Incident Command System (ICS) positions should be placed between the 10 to 2 o’clock directions. The ideal condition has always been up wind, uphill and up stream. With that being said, there are a few basic principles we should consider for every incident.

We have all heard the old adage that if you’ve been to one airport, then you’ve been to them all. However, airports are complex places and the size of the airport, scheduled aircraft, ARFF equipment, training, mutual aid, and jurisdictional boundaries all contribute to the differences. Exactly who is in charge or is responsible for each airport operation varies with each airport environment.

The same concept is true regarding aircraft fires, no two are exactly alike. First responders must prepare for every imaginable set of circumstances. Table top, functional, and full scale exercises will help educate and prepare the airport for many different scenarios. The time to make many of the overall incident management and jurisdictional decisions is during pre-planning as any issue that can be worked out before an incident will be one less hurdle to overcome during the event. The use of a Standard Emergency Response Pattern (SERP) as a template can help responding agencies with the overall geographic layout (see Figure 1). The pattern is primarily based on wind and terrain but also considers many external factors. When overlaying a diagram of a clock to the incident scene, down wind is at the 12 o’clock position. If possible, no Incident Command System (ICS) positions should be placed between the 10 to 2 o’clock directions. The ideal condition has always been up wind, uphill and up stream. With that being said, there are a few basic principles we should consider for every incident.

Figure 1: A standard emergency response pattern

Figure 1: A standard emergency response pattern

The first decision the Incident Commander (IC) will make is how to approach the scene. The shortest distance from point A to B is always a straight line but in an aviation incident, there are many more factors to consider. Is the aircraft on or off airport property? Is there a debris field or power lines involved? Is the scene accessible on solid surface or off road? Is the structural integrity of the fuselage intact or disintegrated? Are there fire, fuel, or dangerous goods involved? What are the current and forecast weather conditions? And finally, is this a rescue or recovery? The Life Safety component will dictate the majority of the decisions that will be made. The IC should not commit responders to unnecessary risk if there is no chance for survivability.

Police and security officers should be utilised to establish inner and outer perimeters. Under no circumstances should non-essential personnel be allowed to enter the parameters without IC approval. These boundaries will dictate where and how each of the additional ICS positions will be located. The Command Post (CP) should be located at the 3 o’clock position at least 300 feet from the incident. The distance should be increased to 500 feet if dangerous goods are suspected. The CP should include at least one representative from the fire, law, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and airport operations industries. The group can then make multiagency decisions as a unified command system.

As senior personnel replace initial resp – onders, the core group of the unified command should be kept to a minimum. The use of an incident tactical work sheet can help account for and deploy resources. ICS 200 forms should also be considered for any large scale event. Keeping up with who is on the scene, who did what, and what time they left is much easier in real time rather than trying to remember later. The IC should access aircraft specific information concerning fuel, batteries, occupancy and configuration. This type of information is readily available in electronic format from the manufacture or the database maintained by the Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Working Group (ARFFWG).

For incident accountability, there should be a single entry and exit co-ordinator. All attempts should be made to identify personnel within the exclusionary zone prior to the entry co-ordinator being established. If de-contamination is to be administrated, it should be co-located with the exit co-ordinator. Allowing contaminated persons and equipment beyond this point will jeopardise the integrity of the entire system. A quick exit co-ordinator should also be identified in case the incident escalates unexpectedly. To remain within the ICS span of control, the incident should be sub-divided into branches or groups. Attack, Rescue, Haz/Mat, and Medical Branches are the four areas that correspond with the tactics that must be considered.

Once the decision has been made to enter the exclusionary zone, resources must be committed with purpose. Everything within the incident area is hazardous to both occupants and responders alike. The old saying ‘it will stick you, sting you, or bite you’ is true for an accident scene. Fuel, lavatory waste, biohazards, jagged metals, unstable segments, heated components, and composites are all potential hazards. The initial attack typically begins with the selection of extinguishing agents. Strategy and tactics will vary greatly for each incident. Water and foam should be used generously to extinguish any indication of fire. Direct flame impingement will burn through an aircraft fuselage in as little as 90 seconds. A fuel cell rupture can change an incident from a survivable to disastrous conditions in seconds and there are no second chances to get the initial fire knock down right.

For many company officers, this is a once in a career opportunity. Depending on the number or vehicles, the most successful approach should be made with at least two vehicles from different angles. The first vehicle should always protect the fuselage from flame impingement and extension. The second vehicle should consider providing an occupant egress path. If your airport is fortunate to have adequate staff on hand, an interior crew should be assembled to remove any victims who did not self-evacuate. Always have a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) if interior operations are committed. Accessory agents like dry chemical or halon can have a role depending on type and location of fire. Discharging water, foam and purple K through a hydro-chem nozzle should be considered for any 3D or flowing liquid type of fire. Halotron is designed to be used in an electronics or cargo environment.

Caution should be used when discharging any halon type product around passengers, livestock, or responders. Fire should always be addressed from the unburned to burned area. It is important for firefighters to understand that fire should be pushed back to where it came and not spread to unaffected areas. Wind direction not only influences the placement of the ICS positions but also how we accomplish ventilation. We must create a survivable atmosphere within the fuselage immediately. Positive Pressure Ventilation (PPV) fans must be positioned immediately to be effective as poisonous gases in smoke can kill the majority of victims who were never exposed to the radiant heat. Now that the fire is addressed and knocked down, the real work begins.

The next major focus for the Incident Commander is medical. We spend thousands of dollars and training hours annually preparing for Mass Causality Incidents (MCI). The most important thing we can do as ARFF is save the occupants. If we do everything else correctly but fail to rescue the occupants then our efforts are in vain. Medical should be at the 6 o’clock position upwind from the incident. Setting up triage, treatment, and transport must be well thought out and positioned. The tagging of victims will often have to be performed in the hot zone.

Most injured patients will not be ambulatory and care must be administered prior to movement. The standard colour coding of Red, Yellow, Green, and Black is universal to most jurisdictions. An accurate count of victims will determine the number of transport units and hospital availability to request. The treatment area must be close enough to receive causalities from the incident but not so close as to further harm them. Allowing them to be contaminated a second time will only multiply their injuries. Treatment will range anywhere from minor psychological trauma to trauma full arrest. Transport must be set up in a fashion to allow ambulances to flow smoothly. Forcing ambulances to turn around or back up cost precious minutes the victim may not have. Ambulances and medical personnel must be able to triage all victims in a reasonable time frame. Your jurisdiction must adopt a Triage Tag or patient accountability program. Area Hospitals will already have a system in place to deal with a large influx of victims.

There are a number of additional ICS positions that must be considered. Staging is a collection of resources that are reliably deployable. We use the rule of thumb that if they cannot see the incident they may be too far away. Staging must be close enough that personnel can walk to the scene with equipment but remain clear of the exclusionary zone. Staging must also be located between the inner and outer parameters and resources organised to be dispatched as single, strike teams, or task forces. Resources should not leave staging without clear instructions as to task and location. Base is often referred to a level II staging where it is a collection of resources to replenish staging but typically outside the AOA or secondary perimeter. As resources are being moved up to staging, base must continuingly replenish itself. Rehab should never be co-located or confused with medical. Responders in Rehab should be rehydrated, rested, and evaluated prior to being re-assigned to the incident. A helipad should be established if there is an issue with ground transportation units. A clear flat open surface will be required to establish a landing zone and manpower should not be committed to establish a helipad if no more than one helicopter is available. A bus should be considered for non-life threatening victims that are ambulatory. The morgue can temporarily be a hanger or refrigerated truck in warmer environments as body parts will have to be provided for as soon as released by the medical examiner.

Media is a given at every aviation incident. From the smallest one seat incident to the largest multi-causality incident, there will be a news reporter. Have a Public Information Officer (PIO) to keep the media informed. This will ensure accurate up to date information is being disseminated. Family assistance is not typically the jurisdiction of the first responders but arrangements must be made to accommodate family members. Salvage and overhaul may be days after the incident. Investigatory agencies will try to understand and reenact the incident for liability as well as research findings. The IC must make every attempt to protect evidence at the scene. The IC must document every aspect of the incident including photographs and written statements as soon as practical.

Incidents with multiple operational periods may have several Incident Commanders and command staff. The need to fill out the ICS 200 forms becomes more important the more complex the incident is.

They are low occurrence events with very high potential for loss of life. Our best practice is to always prepare for the worst case scenario and be ready to handle any situation. Realistic full scale training events allows us to honestly indentify our strengths and weaknesses. Interagency coordination and communication will dramatically affect the outcome of your event. We must stay focused and committed and recognise that our number one goal is to rescue the occupants.

 

About the author

Chief David Y Whitaker is a 30 year veteran with the Memphis Fire Department including 15 years in the Air Rescue Division. He is presently serving as the Airport Liaison Chief for the Memphis International Airport and Chairman of the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Working Group. His credentials include AAAE accreditation, Commercial Flight Instructor, Paramedic, Firefighter, Haz/Mat and Instructor ratings. Chief Whitaker earned his BPS in Medical Aviation Administration from the University of Memphis. He was a co-author of the IFSTA Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting 5th edition. He developed and bata tested in Memphis the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Working Group (ARFFWG) Database programme now being used by airport fire departments internationally.

One response to “Preparation is everything”

  1. Keith Martin says:

    Out of all the articles I’ve read this has to be the best I’ve seen online. Thank you Chief Whitaker

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