Diagram 1: National feedback results

Guidance for aircraft incidents for municipal firefighters

Published:  08 June, 2012

F&R provides a rare glimpse into how West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service District Commander Peter Martin put together Fire and Rescue Service Operational Guidance - Aircraft Incidents: a document that had not been updated for over a decade.

The purpose of the Operational Guidance Programme is to assist fire and rescue services in the development of local operational procedures or provides guidance on specific operational approaches to take, based on an analysis of risk to resolve all incidents.

The programme of work is also driven by the need to:

  • Improve firefighter safety
  • Provide safe systems of work for the fire and rescue services
  • Promote interoperability and effective operational deployment

The operational guidance programme identified that the existing guidance was over 10 years old and in need of revision

Aircraft Incident guidance is aimed at providing a consistency of approach that forms the basis for common operational practices, supporting interoperability between fire and rescue services, other emergency responders, the aviation industry and other groups. These common principles, practices and procedures are intended to support the development of safe systems of work on the incident ground and to enhance national resilience.

This has been supported by the previous publication of the Generic Risk Assessment 4.3 on incidents involving aircraft, which examines the hazards, risk and control measures relating to incidents attended by the fire and rescue service (FRS) involving aircraft.

The project was scoped for a 12-month period from February 2010 to February 2011.  The brief for the project was to review, revise and refresh the existing operational guidance which was published in 1999 and had been subjected to little or no revision over the time of his life.

Without the support of my project support administrator Miss Hollie Hall, this operational guidance document would have struggled in completion within the timeframe and to its final high standard.

Literature review

The first task was to review all documentation published by central government, concerning any aspect of firefighter safety in relation to aircraft incidents, plus existing operational guidance from around the UK fire and rescue services.

A literature review was carried out at the Fire Service College Moreton in Marsh Gloucestershire of all relevant information within their library archives, dating back to the 1950s. This was quite a task but at the end of it I was in a position to make recommendation as to what existing guidance was still in the public arena and needed to be withdrawn or would be deemed obsolete by my project.

Stakeholder engagement

Following the literature review it was very apparent that since the last operational guidance in 1999 there had been little or no new publications with reference aircraft incidents.

Therefore for me to review, revise and refresh an existing document against current practices was going to be very difficult. The solution was to engage with the aviation sector and local authority fire and rescue services in the UK to identify information and good practice.

A questionnaire was sent to all Chief Fire officers asking for standard operating procedures for aircraft incidents within their fire and rescue services and contact was made with the aviation firefighting sector for training notes and general information on a multitude of subjects.

In March 2010 I held a stakeholder event at the civil aviation authority headquarters at Gatwick (the CAA fully supported this project and were a key stakeholder throughout the life of the project).

From that event I managed to obtain commitment from over 40 members of that group who would act as a “core delivery group” that would review any draft chapters of my operational guidance prior to national consultation. In short this group became my subject matter experts who gave up their time to proof read and ‘sanity-check’ all draft chapters.

Drafting phase

Following the stakeholder event I submitted to the project board a final project implementation document (PID) giving a detailed view of the areas to be covered in the new operational guidance and also detailing areas that would be out of scope.

This was then signed off, and from the beginning of April into the summer months drafting of the individual chapters began in earnest.

I made an executive decision that all drafting would be carried out by myself and I would not give work packages out to third parties to complete on my behalf. In this way I could control the tempo, quality and turnaround of drafted chapters as time was against me.

To write this operational guidance I needed to be methodical and so therefore I picked off one chapter at a time. I collated and collected as much information on that subject as I felt appropriate, and started writing.

A number of chapters were written following interviews with subject matter experts due to the lack of existing information in that particular field, for example hot air balloons and air show management.

Chapters were then sent out to the 40 members of the core delivery group for comments and amendments.

Each chapter was sent out for a three-week period and so the group were on occasions inundated with work to do on my behalf, and I owe them a great deal of gratitude.

This time-consuming exercise lasted between April and August 2010.

National consultation/feedback

As with all government publications there is a requirement for national consultation to all relevant stakeholders.

Consultation involved sending the draft operational guidance to all fire and rescue services and airport fire services in the UK, plus all other identified stakeholders. In short the operational guidance was circulated to over 90 agencies/organisations for a three-month period of national consultation.

Reminders were sent out to all these organisations every 2-3 weeks to ensure that the project received feedback within the 12-week period. As a result the project received a 66% return, which on reflection was a terrific effort by the sector.

National consultation feedback results

The feedback I received was overwhelming both in quantity and in detail. I was very conscious that the operational guidance couldn't fundamentally change and therefore I tried to identify themes of comments as opposed to reacting to a single comment that may have liked or disliked a single point. Below is a pie graph demonstrating the view of the many organisations that responded.

So what new and why?

The old guidance had very much focused on large passenger aircrafts, with no mention of general aviation. As a local authority fire officer you may only ever attend one or two aircraft incident in your career and the chances are that it will be a light aircraft.

The AAIB aircraft investigators attend up to 100 incidents each year and the majority of these are general aviation aircraft. It was very important for this guidance to capture the hazards of such incidents, including ballistic parachutes, highly flammable fuels, access and construction etc, so sections on general aviation, hot air balloons, and gliders have been included.

In the UK there are over 300 air shows each year and local authority fire officers play a major part in the planning of these events, so an Appendix  provides a short overview of these events, with terminology and CAA guidance publications.

Airport rescue and firefighting Services (RFFS)

It was a request of the stakeholder work that a chapter was dedicated to our colleagues who work at airports providing fire cover. This guidance covers the differing levels of firefighting capability that different categories of airports will have and explains response time requirements and principle objectives of the role of the airport fire services.


The guidance also clarifies the legal position of local authority fire services attending aircraft incidents on an airport with regards to who is in command and the expectations of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.

General standard operating procedures (GSOP)

This is a new section that is included in all new operational guidance, and it splits an incident into 6 phases, providing general considerations based on the Managing Incidents -Decision Making Model.

An extensive chapter on military aviation includes information on the role of the newly formed Military Aviation Authority (the military equivalent to the Civil Aviation Authority).

No section on military aircraft incidents would be complete without guidance on rescue of aircrew from aircraft fitted with aircraft assisted escape systems – ejection seats.

The new guidance covers this in more detail and also includes new information on the safe seat handle that many aircraft are fitted with that negates to need to fumble around the cockpit for the legendary seat safety pins.It also covers how to make a force entry through an aircraft canopy even with AAES and the associated miniature detonator cord.

Helicopters/rotary wing

An extensive chapter covers safe approach paths which can (eg Chinook) be made from the rear of the aircraft. It also covers the real risk of ADELT (emergency transmitters that are sprung-loaded and deploy in an emergency) deploying if water from fire hoses are directed on to them.

To conclude:

This project was completed on time, within budget and to a 98% stakeholder satisfaction - job done!

This guidance is free to download from the following link or can be purchased as a hardcopy document.



About the author

Peter Martin, group manager with West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, has served the majority of his 27 years service close to Gatwick airport and is currently district commander for Crawley and Mid Sussex responsible for seven fire stations, 200 members of staff and Gatwick liaison.

  • Operation Florian

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