Aircraft rescue firefighting
Published: 01 September, 2006
Whichever way you look at it, the A380 is huge. The structural dimensions surpass those of all previous commercial aircraft. With two levels inside, the wide-bodied aircraft can accommodate an incredible 555 passengers in the standard seating configuration.
Whichever way you look at it, the A380 is huge. The structural dimensions surpass those of all previous commercial aircraft. With two levels inside, the wide-bodied aircraft can accommodate an incredible 555 passengers in the standard seating configuration. Additional challenges faced by airport firefighters dealing with the Airbus include an enormous cargo capacity, the 300,000 litre fuel reserve and the huge 24.1 metre height of the aircraft.
If you think of an average football pitch, lengthwise it stretches from goal line to goal line while its wing tips hang well beyond the sidelines. Three full decks run along the entire length of the plane.
Upper and main decks serve as passenger areas, and are connected by a grand staircase near the front of the plane and by another smaller staircase at the back. Although the lower deck is reserved primarily for cargo, in some configurations it will be outfitted for special passenger uses such as sleeper cabins, business centres or even child care service.
Handling an A380 emergency
The A380 faces significant challenges on the ground. To integrate into existing airports, the A380 must fit the standard airport-docking plan. The plane’s nearly 262-foot wingspan meets this requirement by about 18 inches.
Its outer-most engines, however, would hang just beyond the standard 150-foot runway width, requiring upgrades at many airports. The plane’s weight will be distributed to 20 landing gear wheels, actually producing less weight per wheel than the 747. Having said this, the aircraft is still 24.1 metres off the ground.
An experienced ARFF firefighter for over 32 years, Mike DeLoach, a member of the Orlando International Airport Fire Rescue Department, is clear on how he thinks ARFF teams should address the problems posed by such large aircraft.
“With the abundance of large frame aircraft the elevated waterway is now almost becoming a necessity. Snozzles and other elevated waterways work and are currently the main tools for the ARFF services. Imagine attempting a firefighting mission on an Airbus 380 in the upper decks without them?
“When you combine the use of the FLIR and the elevated waterway you may penetrate to the seat of the fire with a reduced danger to firefighting personnel. This also allows an early attack on the fire.”
Using FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared cameras) enables you to scan an aircraft to detect any ‘hot spots’. As you approach the fuselage you can examine all the areas which show a temperature change within a few degrees.
What else is new about the Airbus?
The A380 features an advanced version of the common two crew cockpit, with pull-out keyboards for the pilots, extensive use of composite materials such as GLARE, and four 320 to 347kN (72,000 to 78,000lb) class RollsRoyce Trent 900 or Engine Alliance (General Electric/Pratt & Whitney) GP-7200 turbofans.
Several A380 models are planned: the basic aircraft is the 555 seat A380-800 and high gross weight A380-800, with the longer range A380-800R planned.
The A380-800F freighter will be able to carry a 150 tonne payload and is due to enter service in 2008. Future models will include the shortened, 480 seat A380-700, and the stretched, 656 seat, A380-900.
The -700, -800, and -900 designations were chosen to reflect that the A380 will enter service as a ‘fully developed aircraft’ and that the basic models will not be soon replaced by more improved variants.
Orders and options from nine world-renowned customers (Air France, Emirates (the first customer), Federal Express (the cargo model launch customer), International Lease Finance Corporation, Lufthansa, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic) have already been made.
Despite technical delays and a severe backlog of orders, A380 assembly is working at full speed in Toulouse, France, with interior fitment in Hamburg, Germany. Major A380 fuselage and wing assemblies are being transported to Toulouse by ship, barge and road.
Making a fuselage entry
Richard Blanchard, fire chief at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport is concerned about the possibility of an emergency involving the A380 double-decker.
He told Air Safety Week that the ‘big question’ for his ARFF team was where the Snozzle should be punched into the aircraft. Essentially a proboscis-like ‘stinger’ device at the end of an articulated arm, the Snozzle can be punched through the outer skin of a burning aircraft to dispense up to 350 gallons of suppressant per minute into the interior to quench a fire.
Blanchard’s point is this: “If the Snozzle is punched into, say, the overhead bin area, the confined space would impede the spray of liquid. Entry points, similar to the painted lines around rescue windows, need to be painted at strategic locations on the outside of the fuselage,” he argues.
Many airlines are not keen on having exterior paintwork decorated with such markings and feel that such contingencies might cause passengers to worry about issues of safety and airworthiness.
Blanchard suggests the use of infrared tape to mark suitable Snozzle entry points.
“The tape would be nearly invisible to the eye but would appear readily in the firefighters’ infrared video. This idea needs to be pursued,” Blanchard says.
Vehicles on the ground
Last month the fire brigade at the Airbus manufacturing site in Hamburg purchased a brand new telescopic mast vehicle equipped with a fully automatic Allison transmission. Supporting the arrival of the new A380, the vehicle offers improved safety and control as well as reduced maintenance costs.
However, the new telescopic mast vehicle with a fully automatic Allison transmission is now onsite to assist the brigade. Although designated for rescue operations, the vehicle’s primary application is currently in final assembly work on the aircraft, such as painting and the interior furnishing of cabins.
Uniquely, the vehicle is the first Mercedes-Benz Econic fire truck to be equipped with a 54-metre telescopic mast platform. The platform is from Bronto Skylift, the contractor also responsible for the bodywork. Mercedes-Benz equipped its specially designed chassis with an electronic-hydraulic controlled steering axle for high precision manoeuvring. The four-axle frame is powered by a 240kW diesel motor and has a fully automatic six speed transmission from Allison’s 3000 Series. The gearbox offers high quality shifts and excellent control, allowing safe driving in the busy airport environment.
“The drivers don’t want to use manual transmissions any more,” says Bernhard Gerdes, head of the Airbus plant fire brigade in Hamburg tells IFJ. “With a fully automatic transmission it is possible to give full attention to the airport traffic and to the task at hand.”
Benefits of Allison transmissions
In addition to the ease of use, Gerdes also appreciates the financial advantages of fully automatic Allison transmissions.
“Good performance, reduced vehicle downtimes and lower lifetime costs, when compared with a manual gearbox, were the deciding factors for purchasing an Allison transmission,” he continues.
The life cycles of Allison transmissions are longer than average, with very little wear throughout the vehicle life. For this reason there is virtually no maintenance required, saving the fire team needless vehicle downtime and costs. Because of the many advantages experienced with the Allison equipped Econic further automatic vehicles will be purchased in the future.
The impressive features of the 11.9 metre long, 32-tonne vehicle starts with its agility on the ground and reaches right up to its versatile working platform. A balcony is used in rescue, fire-fighting and evacuation operations. When the mast has reached its target height, the slewing rescue basket can come into use.
Supplied by Bronto, the basket is from its new Rescue Ladder Extra (RLX) Series. It can carry a maximum weight of 540 kilograms, the equivalent of five people with fire fighting equipment.
“An excellent marriage of technologies in the design of this vehicle ensures that the mast and platform are completely stable when the vehicle is at rest, even when the mast arm is fully extended. Firefighters can enjoy safety and comfort, both in motion as they drive to locations and when stationary as they operate the platform,” concludes Bernhard Gerdes.
ARFF firefighter Mike DeLoach comments:
“With this kind of new technology comes an increased need for training. Special training is needed if one is to achieve competency in operating an elevated waterway. Do not make the same mistakes that some have made by punching a hole in the cab of your apparatus when you are bedding the Snozzle!
“Additional emphasis needs to be placed on approaches and angles for penetration. Fortunately, the makers of the elevated waterways have preprogrammed different types of aircraft into the onboard computer. Remember that this is for an ‘ideal situation’ with the aircraft on all intact wheels.” y