By: Mitch Iles
Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) is a highly specialized component of the fire service. An aircraft accident presents itself with a plethora of unique hazards which threaten aircraft occupants, the community, the environment, and emergency responders. ARFF crews must respond quickly and with precision to minimize loss of life, injuries, and dangers. With that being said, many of our industry’s failures are due to lack of meaningful training. Fortunately, aviation is, in general, very safe. Considering the number of flight operations conducted every year, the number of incidents is extremely low. For ARFF firefighters, this means we will never develop proficiency in our trade from the actual events in which we participate. Our skill sets will be honed through training and our tactical “experience” developed through those incidents in which we are involved and by studying the accidents and fire that occur elsewhere.
As an industry, we have developed sufficient knowledge and experience to approach each challenge presented during an aircraft incident with brains rather than brawn. We should be working smarter and safer rather than harder. We can operate more efficiently to produce an outcome that provides a new benchmark for learning. Sometimes tradition interferes with progress. Just because, “we’ve always done it that way” does not make it the best way. We should look at best practices and new technology to make sure we are keeping our skill set current and sharp.
Each of our operations is different. We come from different cultures, various organizations, and different levels of responsibility. As diverse as all of these considerations are, we are all the same on a relative scale. We all have a responsibility to make sure that our customers are safe. We need to evaluate each available piece of technology that may apply to helping us accomplish this customer safety. Department budgets are tight, so we must invest wisely. We need to study the best application of that technology and develop training that is designed not with the intent to allow us to check off a box on the training form, but instead to build proficiency by its users. Our internal procedures must be such that each asset assigned to us is checked daily and ensured to be safe and operational.
We must also recognize that most technology is not meant to be “stand alone.” The firehouse dining table or training room is a great place to brainstorm appropriate utilization of technology and how it can be combined for an even more significant benefit. Knowing how to use things like our FLIR cameras, handheld TICs, HRETs, PyroLance, and ultra-high pressure (UHP) need be trained with, and those using them need to understand in what combination makes them most useful. The same can be said for classroom training. Just talking about what we would do on specific incidents can be helpful, but it may not be enough. Using state-of-the-art software can now be used to elevate classroom training. Software like FTRSuite can be used on a basic-entry level or a recurrent level to learn/refresh your aircraft and airfield familiarization in a safe-error free environment. For more advanced training, it can be used for strategies and tactics. Crews can discuss response routes, truck placement, strategic priorities, and considerations.