Game changers in ARFF technology

Published:  01 March, 2012

Ann-Marie Knegt visits the Royal Dutch Air force Training Academy to see a newhigh-tech ARFF vehicle that could influence future ICAO and NATO standards.

The Royal Dutch Air Force has proven to be a pioneer in new firefighting strategies and technologies over the last 10 years. The acquisition of 25 E-One crash tenders in 2003, for instance, caused the Force to rethink strategy and develop the concept of basic tactical response, a tactic where every person in the team has pre-defined actions and tasks. This concept has now been adopted by other ARFF brigades in Holland, and is steadily gaining popularity in other areas in the world.

The reason for Fire and Rescue’s visit to the Royal Dutch Air Force Fire training Academy in Woensdrecht (The Netherlands) was to meet Major Rob Venmans and Major Geert Luyten, Head of the Defence Material Organisation (DMO) for Firefighting Equipment. Rob is head of the Firefighting Academy for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and he also sits on the NATO Crash Fire and Rescue panel, which develops STANAGs (Standard NATO Agreements) for ARFF operations. DMO with its respective team and the designers at Rosenbauer have developed a firefighting vehicle that is set to change the way how ARFF personnel respond in the future.

The concept of the Out of Area Vehicle (or “The Bull”) saw its inception during a brainstorm in 1998. At that point there were no units that were geared to respond both to helicopter fires and compound protection operations in mission areas, and Rob, Geert and their team started writing down ideas for requirements on a whiteboard. This brainstorm resulted in a concept for two types of vehicles; the first involving the E-One Titan crash tenders (in service at the Air Force since 2003) and the new Out of Area Vehicles, five of which were delivered by Kenbri Fire Fighting Equipment in the Netherlands, at the end of last year.

A totally new idea that took years to fully develop, the Out of Area Vehicle is based on a Mercedes-Benz Actros 6x6 chassis, and has been specifically designed to provide protection during helicopter hot fuelling (refuelling with an engaged rotor) and FARP (Forward Arming and Refuelling Point) operations in mission areas.

“The fire service always has to be present during these situations. When a fuel spill ignites it takes about 90 seconds for the tail of the helicopter to burn completely, due to it being made from carbon composite material,” said Geert. “In addition, there are two pilots in an Apache, and there are staff from the fuel supply and rearming department under and around the helicopter. It is therefore essential to be extremely quick.”

Black-out mode

The vehicle has been designed with special military modifications, including an armoured body and a special mode that activates black-out lighting. During night time operations, the driver can press a button on the dashboard, which disables all the conventional lighting and strobes, and activates the black-out lighting. The personnel onboard have all been trained to work in the dark, explained Geert, in addition to those working around the helicopters. “However, in case of an incident, we have added a special crash button on the dashboard, which automatically switches strobes and lighting back on. This is a sign to everyone that they should stop working, because something has happened. The vehicle then automatically goes into crash mode. The pump switches on at 10 bar, the foam and water supply is generated and the monitor takes on an automatic attack position. So by pressing one button, the whole vehicle is geared up to respond within a minimum amount of time.”

The truck is completely armoured, and its applications are not just limited to helicopter response – it is also used for airstrip and compound protection. As a result the SOP is to always respond in vehicle pairs, each with a crew of three onboard. The only difference between the two trucks is that one equipment locker has been filled with kit for ARFF response, while the compartment on the other vehicle carries rescue tools, including chainsaws, specialised cutting/spreading equipment, and a special armoured door opener.

Geert explained why having the right rescue tools is absolutely vital, “Depending on the stage of the mission, the whole compound is armoured, including all the vehicles of the different units that are present. In Afghanistan for instance, armoured vehicles drive into roadside bombs. Cutting someone out of a Vauxhall is a whole different matter from extricating people out of a vehicle that has been designed against that exact purpose. We tested a selection of rescue tools in Afghanistan, but the regular equipment didn’t fit the bill. During an explosion doors are pressed into their hinges in an armoured vehicle. In the end the solution lay in a simple Makita drill connected to a door opener. This enables us to open any armoured door.”

Before the introduction of the Out of Area Vehicles, the Air Force had a crash tender and a conventional water tender on duty at all times. Rob emphasised that from a strategic perspective the new set-up offered a great advantage, because the staff now only has to be familiar with one type of vehicle.

The units have been designed so they can be transported by C-17 or Antonov airplane. They are completely self-supporting, and can operate from -32 oC to +47 oC and at the same capacity at any height. The engine can run on any type of fuel derived from Diesel, including Kerosene. “The capacity does diminish by 25% if the engine isn’t run on Diesel,” said Geert. “However, it is essential to have this feature in a war zone, because you never know what might happen, or what supplies are actually available.”

Every truck carries a 40KVA power generator to ensure self-support in any situation, whereas most conventional fire apparatus only carry 10KVA. “Self sufficiency was elementary during the whole design. This was also the reason why it was a challenge to combine an aggregate this size with a CAFS system and sufficient equipment lockers. Not only do we have to carry our firefighting equipment, but we also need space for military kit such as duffel bags, tents and weapons,” he added.

The vehicle is equipped with the latest CAFS technology – Rosenbauer FLASH CAFS/ 3,000lpm. Initially, Geert went to assess ultra-high pressure systems in action with the US Air Force Laboratory and was initially very enthusiastic about that system. He explained that the US Air Force was driving around in a tiny crash tender, which extinguished a pit with 500 litres of burning kerosene within 20 seconds. The US Air Force is planning to replace all its crash tenders with ultra-high pressure vehicles.

“After extensive research, however, we found that CAFS did the job faster and more effectively, and that is why we decided to install a CAFS system with its accompanying high pressure bottles. This creates a really good air spin in the foam, and results in superior quality extinguishing agent.

“Where ultra high-pressure foam could be compared to coffee creamer, our CAFS foam is like whipped cream. It seals the fire and prevents any reignition. We recently tested the vehicle’s firefighting capacity in the UK at RAF Manston and everyone there was extremely enthusiastic about its capabilities.”

It takes about 10 seconds to create foam with the Out of Area truck. However, in those first 10 seconds the water that is produced can be used to cool the object on fire. After this the foam that is produced after that has much more extinguishing capacity, said Rob.

“We have discovered that there are major advantages to our new trucks. Where our crash tenders only have one engine that drives both the pump and the transmission system, the Out of Area has two separate engines – for the fire pump and transmission – and this makes it easier to manoeuvre. You can circle around the object and still attack it with foam at the same time. We can also do that with the E-One crash tenders, but it was more difficult and required a lot of training,” said Geert.

In the beginning of March 2012 the vehicles will see their first action during a major exercise in either Germany or the UK. The Dutch Helicopter command will practice FARP and hot fuelling operations during day-and-night time.

It is no surprise that the new units have already attracted considerable interest from the German Army (Bundes Wehr) and the US Army. Rob expects much interest from other defence forces as well. “There were no means to achieve our goal before, and we have developed a great solution, even though we had to design it ourselves, with the immense expertise of the Rosenbauer engineers. I think the Out of Area truck will generate a massive response internationally, since military operations are similar everywhere. The US Army works with FARP operations and has the same compound structure, and this will be the case with most defence NATO forces.”

Since the Out Of Area Vehicles don’t carry the same volume of water and foam as a normal crash tender, but are more effective with more capacity in extinguishing fires, Rob believes that the onset of new technology such as CAFS will change ICAO and NATO regulations in the near future, because NATO Airfield protection rules have been derived from ICAO standards.

“For instance, ICAO states that Airport Fire Services have to respond within three minutes from anywhere on the airfield. Within NATO regulations we have adapted that to two minutes. The NATO Table states that with a certain type of aircraft we need a certain volume of extinguishing agent. However this is based on an airfield with a tarmac runway and ideal operating circumstances. In mission areas we land planes on a dirt strip, but we rely on the same table as a comparable commercial airfield, but with a significantly greater risk. More and more countries are reviewing ‘out of area’ flight traffic, and are adapting their means of response to these extraordinary circumstances.

“There will be reviews in ICAO and NATO regulations, and there will be an ‘out of area’ table. However, there will have to be gradations in these tables based on the equipment that the respective fire service employs. Old vehicles that do not have CAFS or ultra-high pressure will have to comply with the old table. The new tables will have to take the technology in account and reduce the volume of extinguishing agent,” concluded Rob.

Three of the new vehicles are currently stationed at the Defence Helicopter Command at Gilze-Rijen Air Base (2) and Deelen Air Base (1), and two are based at the Royal Dutch Air force Firefighting Academy in Woensdrecht for training purposes.

  • Operation Florian

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