Rescues and firefighting often go hand in hand, but depending on the conditions of the rescue or the whereabouts of the fire, they can be very different in what they require from those who are charged with the duty of keeping others safe. In aviation, rescues and firefighting have often been problematic. Those who work in firefighting and other rescue operations look for better ways they can use in order to make aviation a safer proposition for everyone involved with it. Specifically, aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) is in a category of its own. Response, rescue, mitigation of hazards, and evacuation are all included in ARFF, which typically takes place in an airport setting FAR, n.d; Relyea & Garnett, 1993).
It is not always easy to address fire safety issues when it comes to airports and aviation, however, because only specific types of equipment and chemicals can be used due to the nature of the aircraft. Because of the stringent requirements, determining what could (and should) be used when it comes to fire safety and rescues at airports and aboard aircraft is of extreme importance not only for the aviation industry, but for those who create products for that industry and the firefighters who have to use the chemicals and equipment to protect the lives of others every day.
The largest problem with aviation firefighting and rescue is the complexity when it comes to handling problems. For issues that involve fire, there must be studies into size, weight, and other factors that can affect what kind of chemicals and equipment can be safely stored on board the aircraft. While most ARFF techniques, chemicals, and equipment are used at airports, it is also possible to have a fire on an airplane while it is in the air. What will be available to put this fire out and care for and protect the passengers? Who on board is trained to be sure that the passengers are protected?
These are questions that are faced by every airport and every airline, and they must be taken seriously. Over the years, there have been many studies done into airline safety and aviation fire and rescue protection and avoidance. Even with the level of study undertaken, however, not all problems have been addressed and corrected. Additionally, newer and better ideas are always coming to light, and that means beliefs about fire issues and aviation safety will continue to change.
The main purpose here is to show how firefighting and aviation rescue is handled, and the issues that are most important. Additionally, there will be a comparison of how these issues are handled vs. The best way to handle them, in order to determine if progress is being made or if there are other issues that have to be more carefully considered. This is a very important consideration, because there are generally more ways to handle something than the ways that are actually being utilized. With that being the case, all of the ways that can be used safely and effectively to handle a specific issue would be utilized - or at least studied in order to help determine the best course of action.
What Causes Airline Fires?
In order to determine what really has to be addressed where aviation firefighting and rescue issues are concerned, it is vital to examine cabin safety in aviation. This will involve a discussion of fire-retardant materials and measures such as insulation, and the changes that aviation has undergone in regard to making planes safer. It is not just about rescuing people when there is a fire, or even working to put a fire out. It is also about ensuring that fires do not get started, and the components that are used in the plane have important effects on whether fires start or whether they are avoided. Additionally, the types of rescue and protective gear and firefighting equipment used when a fire does break out will also be addressed within the following pages.
A main concern for aviation fire safety is the plastic coating on airline insulation. This actually has the risk of spreading fires, instead of preventing them. That can make it more difficult for the firefighters and rescuers to get things under control and protect passengers. The FAA determined that the insulation should be replaced worldwide (Knutson, 1998). Stronger safety standards would protect the passengers, but would also protect expensive aircraft and the individuals who are trained to fight fires and rescue passengers should a problem arise on the airplane. Making planes safer involves many things that the public does not see, and fire safety is one of those things.
Many things can go wrong with an aircraft. Fortunately, these things do not happen very often. When they do, though, they can be catastrophic and also difficult to get under control. Fires should not have to be seen as a major worry every time a plane is in operation, and any time it is possible to curtail fears about a particular issue, that makes the passengers and crew all feel better about the flight. Flying is actually much safer than driving a car, but many people prefer to drive because it gives them the illusion that they have control over their situation. In order to continue to make flying as safe as possible, adjustments continue to be made to fire protection in airplanes.
One of these adjustments is to change the insulation that is being used in airplanes. Two different kinds are under consideration. One is Curlon, and another is fiberglass. Both are being considered because they have high heat resistance when they film-wrapped with something called polyimide (Knutson, 1998). The issue with making this kind of change is that it is very expensive, and the airline industry is already struggling with financial problems. Because of its money concerns, it may not be possible for the aviation industry to do anything to better prevent fires or protect passengers.
The insulation in aircraft is not the only fire concern. The seat fabrics that have been used in the past were also not fire resistant, and they are being questioned, as well (McSweeny, 1999). That is a serious issue because it can cause the aircraft to burn faster and hotter during a fire, making it more difficult for firefighters and rescuers to control the flames and protect the people inside the cabin. In 1987, the FAA determined that the seat fabrics had to be changed and the seats themselves had to be improved and strengthened in order to provide as much protection as possible if a fire were to break out in the cabin of an airliner, either on its own or during a crash or emergency landing.
Floor lighting and smoke detectors, along with other measures used for safety, have been implemented because of the FAA and its rules and regulations. The insulation has not been changed, but the seats and their fabrics have helped to make flying a safer experience for the passengers. The fabrics on the seats are very important, though, and changing them could allow for those few extra minutes that are really needed when there is a fire and rescuers are trying to get to passengers to make sure they can get off the plane safely and securely without being harmed (McSweeny, 1999).
Among the most dangerous and significant of the problems with fires on airplanes, however, is a hidden issue: the wiring. It runs through the cockpit and cabin, but cannot be seen. Because it is out of sight, most people do not think about it. Unfortunately, that can cause huge problems. If the wiring short circuits or is otherwise faulty, a fire can break out. These fires can spread and smolder for some time before they are discovered, at which time there may be little that can be done to save the aircraft or the passengers. This can all be avoided with the installation of arc sensing circuit breakers (Adams, 1999). These breakers "pop" when there is a problem, and that shuts off power to the area where the problem was found. They are mandatory in new U.S. buildings, but they are not a requirement on U.S. airliners, even though they could make a difference.
What Happens in a Fire Rescue
When a fire does break out on an airplane, it is the responsibility of ARFF to protect the passengers and crew. Special equipment is needed for firefighting and rescue in an aviation setting (Essentials, 2008; FAR, n.d). Speed is important, but the fire trucks that are designed for ARFF must also be able to carry a lot of water for a long distance. Planes do not always experience fires at airports. Some of them experience fires in flight and either must land or crash land (emergency land) somewhere that is not at a designated airport. Being able to get to these landing sites quickly is highly important for anyone on an ARFF team, and also vital for the passengers…