Graeme Day, Fire Service Compliance Manager, Technical Standards and Assurance.

2013 - a busy year at Heathrow Airport

Published:  06 December, 2013

New PPE, new Panthers and new foam – not to mention two aircraft incidents – means 2013 has been particularly busy for Heathrow’s Airport Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS), writes Graeme Day, Fire Service Compliance Manager, Technical Standards and Assurance.

Heathrow Airport Fire & Rescue Service, with its team of 110 dedicated firefighters, offers a world-class service in maintaining a safe airport environment; protecting the 80 million plus passengers that pass through every year along with the 83,000 staff who work on site.

Rosenbauer Panthers

Heathrow Airport Fire & Rescue Service has recently completed a major foam tender replacement programme which has seen the service replace the ageing fleet of foam tenders with state-of-the art Rosenbauer Panther CA-5 (6x6) vehicles; an investment in excess of £8 million ($12m).

Following an extensive evaluation process, the Heathrow project team chose the Panther vehicles that are manufactured by Rosenbauer in Linz, Austria, and supplied by UK-based firm Angloco.

The project, which has lasted two years, has seen the team deliver a total of eight vehicles, three of which feature high reach extending turret (HRET) technology.

The Panther is renowned as one of the most advanced airport fire vehicles in the world and technologically superior to any appliance Heathrow Airport has had before. The vehicles have a variety of equipment that ensures that staff operating them are afforded the best protection (eg joystick control of the main and bumper turrets from the vehicles cabin) from the risks involved in aviation fire and rescue activities.

Each truck has seven times more horse power than a family car, and is capable of accelerating from 0-80kph in less that 30 seconds, achieving a top speed in excess of 110kph (not bad for a vehicle that weighs over 36 tonnes). They carry 11,500 litres of water and 1,400 litres of foam and have Caterpillar Euro 5 engines that meet strict European environmental standards.

Innovative specifications such as rear wheel steering allow the operators to turn the vehicles in less than a 23m turning circle, whilst reducing tyre wear significantly. A four-person cabin layout allows for flexibility in resource deployment to meet the ever changing demands placed upon the service.

Infrared cameras assist operators in times of reduced visibility (images are relayed back to the cabin and displayed on large screens), and the large fixed dry powder units allow powder to be applied via the 'dry chem' nozzle at over 10kg per second whilst retaining the ability to simultaneously produce fire fighting foam.

The £8m ($12m) investment in the Rosenbauer Panther fire appliances will help ensure that the Heathrow Airport Fire & Rescue Service is equipped to deal with any incident at the airport for many years to come.

Fire fighting foam

LHR Airports Limited AFRS recently renewed its fire fighting foam contract and after much research took the decision to purchase an ICAO Level B compliant fluorine and organohalogen free product [Moussol-FF] manufactured by Dr Sthamer-Hamburg.

In line with LHR Airports’ environmental policy of reducing the impact of aviation on the environment, the feasibility of procuring an operationally compliant, environmentally-friendly fire fighting foam was extensively researched. The first step in the process involved consulting with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), before exploring the availability of such products within the aviation fire fighting sector. The whole process was supported by LHR Airports Limited’s Procurement Department to ensure objectivity and impartiality throughout.

LHR Airports Limited AFRS insisted that the main criteria for selection must be operational effectiveness and compliance. As a result, foam manufacturers were asked to provide details of the ICAO Level B compliant fluorine/organohalogen free foams that they supplied.

Once a list of foam concentrates that met those requirements had been collated, manufacturers were invited to give a presentation about their product and company to the team set up to manage this project. The project management team comprised personnel from the AFRS and LHR Airports Limited Procurement and Environment teams. This part of the process enabled LHR Airports Limited to establish how a particular company would be able to support the AFRS operation through partnership rather than just supply. The presentations were scored using the LHR Airports Limited procurement template, which ensured that an objective result was obtained.

Following the presentations, a shortlist was established and the listed companies were invited to subject their products to a fire fighting performance test. The test was carried out by an independent, accredited test laboratory and witnessed by LHR Airports Limited personnel, CAA personnel and representatives from the relevant foam companies. All test results were later forwarded to the LHR Airports Limited project team for consideration.

Using a non-disclosure agreement drawn up by LHR Airports Limited in consultation with short-listed foam manufacturers, the Environment Team was able to analyse the chemical make-up of each foam sample. This ensured that LHR Airports Limited could be certain that the products under consideration did not pose an environmental threat to the infrastructure of its airports.

Information and scores from supplier presentations, operational effectiveness tests and environmental analysis were collated and examined by the Foam Project Management Team. Based on the information as a whole, a decision was then made to award a contract for the procurement of ICAO Level B compliant fluorine/organohalogen free foam that met LHR Airports Limited’s operational and environmental requirements. Delivery took place during the first quarter of 2013 to coincide with the phased delivery of a new fleet of RFFS vehicles.

The whole process has been well received by the CAA and the use of our new fire fighting foam was used as part of this year’s LHR Airports Limited application in the ‘British Industry in The Community’ (BITC) awards. The application resulted in Heathrow Airport Ltd being awarded Platinum status in Business in the Community’s 2012 Corporate Responsibility Index. The process has also been put forward for a Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) Award.

Heathrow AFRS’s new foam has also proved its worth operationally at the recent Airbus and 787 incidents. The foam extinguished the fires faced by the crews quickly and effectively whilst maintaining excellent post-fire security for AFRS and other personnel.

It is interesting to note that because we had engaged the Environment Agency and local water undertaking during the foam procurement process, when contacted regarding the recent operational use of the product, they had no concerns regarding its environmental impact. This meant that there were no clean up costs as a result of either incident.

The Airbus and 787 incidents were challenging ones for Heathrow personnel and the responding emergency services that provided vital support. As a result of the comprehensive multi-agency de-briefs, operational procedures, training programmes and response models are being reviewed to ensure that future incidents can be dealt with safely, effectively and with the minimum disruption to Heathrow’s passengers and stakeholders. Heathrow Airport Emergency orders are scheduled to be amended to reflect these reviews.


LHR RFFS has now been equipped with PBI Gold PPE clothing supplied and managed by Ballyclare.

After a comprehensive fitting process, each member of the AFRS has been issued with two full sets of PPE. Ballyclare’s bar code system is ensuring that the PPE remains in good condition and, therefore, compliant with EN 469.

All kit can be tracked electronically by AFRS and Ballyclare managers, and is subject to regular internal and external audit. Each item is subjected to a multi-point inspection plan before being assessed as suitable for continued service. Stringent quality control measures are in place and items are inspected before they leave the manufacturing facility. Ballyclare is fully accredited with Article 11b for the manufacture of complex PPE.

LHR AFRS has provided a purpose-built facility at the HQ fire station for storing its personnel’s PPE. This ensures that the garments are held in a controlled environment and out of direct sunlight. The Watch Manager responsible for PPE has built a robust working relationship with the team at Ballyclare to guarantee life-long performance of the garments.

Airbus Incident, 24th May 2013, Persons on board (POB); 75, Cabin Crew; 3, Flight Crew; 2, No Haz Mat

The aircraft departed Heathrow for Oslo. Both engine cowlings failed on take off, depositing debris on the southern runway. The aircraft returned to Heathrow on its No. 1 engine, the captain having shut down the No. 2 engine. The flight deck crew discharged both extinguishers into the No. 2 engine. On approach to Heathrow the incident was upgraded to Aircraft Accident Imminent (AAI) and the captain declared a Mayday. The No. 2 engine was still on fire on approach and landing. The fire was extinguished by Heathrow Airport Fire and Rescue Service crews using two monitors and two side lines, forward and aft.
Inhouse and multiagency debriefs were held and the key points of interest were:
· Heathrow ATC received numerous calls from a variety of callers in the London area reporting an aircraft on fire passing overhead.
· AAI called by ATC as the aircraft’s approach was unstable and above the glide path.
· RVP (E) called but it had been closed the day before.
· From landing to the end of the evacuation – 165 seconds.
· Evacuation took 73 seconds.
· Engine fire extinguished in 55 seconds.
· 20 litres of ICAO Level B fluorine/organohalogen-free foam used at a cost of £71 [~$100].
· No clean-up costs as fluorine/organohalogen-free foam was used.
· Two minor injuries as a result of the evacuation.
· All operational and environmental regulatory requirements were met.
· Refresher training arranged with London Fire Brigade (LFB) covering Incident Command roles and responsibilities, aircraft familiarisation and role of AFRS.
· AFRS response policy being rewritten to reflect AFRS/LFB roles (eg handover of incident to LFB).

Multiple incidents: 12th July

Immediately prior to the 787 incident below, the AFRS at Heathrow dealt with two aircraft incidents, as follows:
1. Full emergency declared 15.26 hrs, Boeing 777 cargo fire reported. Full evacuation via airbridge. Captain discharged all fire extinguishers but the fire alarm not silenced. AFRS actions;
• Deployment of 3 x 2 person BA teams (one internal, one external, one open wear).
• Utilised thermal image camera to ascertain heat trace.
• Issue found to gas from rotten fruit in cargo hold.
• Incident stood down at 16.26 hrs.
2. Local Standby Ground declared 15.33 hrs – A340 smoke from port undercarriage. Incident closed 16.12hrs.
AFRS resources were deployed to both of the above calls.
The incidents involved the use of dry powders, hose reels and breathing apparatus all of which were being returned to operational readiness when the 787 incident started.

Boeing 787 incident
The time of call was 16.34 hrs, at which point RFFS resources were still carrying out post-incident routines. Due to the location of the 787 (adjacent to Heathrow Airport Fire and Rescue Service’s HQ Fire Station) the RFFS were in attendance at 16.34 hrs – but with limited resources. Smoke was visible from the top of the aircraft, the rear right door, cargo hold and avionics hatch.
The RFFS IC positioned appliances, applied fire fighting media to the top of the fuselage and deployed hose reels.
BA crews were committed into fuselage via door 2L, as an internal fire was suspected (location unknown). There was also the possibility that persons were on board and unaccounted for.
BA teams reported a smoke-logged interior with no visibility (temp. 73 °C ), whilst working their way towards the fire at the rear of the aircraft.
External signs indicated that the fire was working its way forward towards the BA team. Location of the fire was not known in terms of whether it was above or below the BA team. Cat 0 was declared by RFFS IC at 16.40 hrs.
The incident was upgraded to Aircraft Accident at 16.43 hrs (+9 mins). This decision was taken in order to increase London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) pre-determined attendance, as the integrity of aircraft was now compromised with fire from an unknown source spreading towards AFRS BA teams.
AFRS BA teams located the source of the fire and reduced its intensity using an on-board Halon extinguisher. This enabled the BA teams to remove ceiling void panels and expose the main fire, which was extinguished using hose reel jets supplied by AFRS Panthers.
Outside, smoke was still escaping from cargo and avionics hatches below the BA teams, so a thermal image camera was deployed to ascertain any other heat sources. Because of this, the RFFS IC was concerned that there may be a secondary source of fire, possibly linked to the location of the aircraft’s lithium batteries. If this was the case, then the BA teams were now directly above a secondary heat source. The following actions were then taken; LFB resources were called forward from the RVP; command and control instigated; it was mutually agreed that AFRS personnel would take the lead with hatch-opening protocols supported by LFB.
AFRS personnel confirmed that there was no secondary fire source in cargo or avionics bays, or any involvement of lithium batteries. LFB personnel deployed internally to support AFRS BA teams and assumed control of the aircraft. Cat 7 was declared 17.36 hrs; AFRS SM declared Cat 10 17.48 hrs; downgraded to Local Standby at 20.19 hrs; incident stopped 04:49 hrs.

This article will be published in the Winter 2013 issue of Industrial Fire Journal.

  • Operation Florian

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