An airport firefighter is an emergency response expert stationed at an airfield. These specialists respond to dangerous situations such as airplane crashes or aviation fuel fires. Due to the unique aspects and hazards of an airport, these firefighters are highly trained. Aviation emergency personnel use a variety of equipment to perform their duties, including special suits and response vehicles.
All firefighters are trained to perform rescues and extinguish blazes. In an airport location, however, specialized experience is required. An airfield often contains fuel tanks and pumps, which can be extremely flammable. Additionally, the aircraft that takeoff and land at airports contain both fuel and oxygen tanks. This combination can cause a fire or crash to quickly become a major emergency.
An airport firefighter has access to special foams and chemicals that are formulated to combat aviation fuel fires. In a crash or fire, one of the primary goals of emergency workers is the evacuation of passengers. Firefighters use handheld hoses and spray vehicles to clear a path for evacuation. The confined space of an aircraft means that a fast response is often critical. Many airports use fast-moving trucks called crash tenders to reach an emergency location quickly.
Individual firefighters are also specially equipped to deal with the dangers of an airport fire. A fire proximity suit is often used to protect workers from intense heat. These full-body suits are silver in appearance, and are designed to reflect heat away from a firefighter. A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is often combined with a protective suit. The SCBA provides clean air for a firefighter, and allows an emergency worker to move close to a fire without inhaling dangerous smoke or fumes.
Training is a significant part of the job for an airport firefighter. Many departments use aircraft fuselages to simulate plane crashes, and may create a controlled fire for training purposes. Airport firefighter personnel perform drills frequently, and work to cut emergency response times. Firefighters must also train to stay in good physical shape, and practice teamwork drills to create a cohesive unit.
Many countries have laws that require firefighters to be constantly stationed at major airports. In the United States, for instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires an airport firefighter team to be stationed at every airfield that receives regularly-scheduled airliners. Organizations such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) evaluate the performance of these firefighters after every accident, and work with emergency groups to improve response times and firefighting training.