Reaching New Heights

The first of two sets of steps that are capable of reaching the upper deck of a giant Airbus A380 were delivered to Munich Airport in March 2009. The second set is scheduled to arrive in the autumn of 2010. (KEY-Tom Allett)

CAT10 and still improving – Tom Allett visits Munich’s fire-fighters.

The first of two sets of steps that are capable of reaching the upper deck of a giant Airbus A380 were delivered to Munich Airport in March 2009. The second set is scheduled to arrive in the autumn of 2010. (KEY-Tom Allett)

They train constantly to deal with an event that everyone hopes will never happen.  They must be ready to perform at the highest level, yet are likely to go through their entire career without ever doing it for real.  Welcome to the world of the fire-fighter.
In May I was given the chance to visit the fire crews at Munich International Airport (IATA MUC), one of the world’s busiest in terms of passenger traffic.  Despite having already achieved CAT10 fire status – the highest currently attainable – significant infrastructure investments are still being made.
 
Background
ICAO’s rules stipulate that in emergencies fire crews much reach incidents out on the airfield within three minutes.  This means that in order to achieve that all-important figure Munich needs two active fire stations to cover its two terminals and parallel runway layout.  Divided into north and south locations, each of its fire stations is situated next to the major taxiways that lie parallel to the runways.
To achieve CAT 10 status, the law demands that the airport’s fire services must have 32,200 litres of water (to enable the production of a film-forming foam) with a flow rate of 11,200 litres per minute, and 450 kilograms of extinguishing powder must available on three vehicles at all times.
However, the fire fighters are also responsible both for fire protection and for technical support of all the buildings and facilities in the airport area.  These range from high-rise buildings to pipelines.  A total of 50,000 manual and automatic fire alarms are installed across the entire airport, which means that a huge electronic guidance system is needed to show the responders their ‘target’ before they have left the fire station.
The local volunteer fire departments in the districts of Freising and Erding would also support the airport‘s fire department if called upon.  Depending on the size of the emergency, up to 160 fire-fighters and 32 vehicles can be mobilised.  For potential off-airport incidents, it is down to the airport’s fire team to decide whether it should respond or leave the task to the local authority’s fire brigade – its all a question of distance.
As you would expect for an airport of this size, being responsible for safety within the terminal buildings is a huge task – Terminal 1 alone is over a kilometre long.  It’s equipped with fire detectors, automatic sprinkler systems, smoke and heat extractors and rolling fire doors.  In addition, the building’s lifts are programmed to automatically move to a smoke-free level where emergency exits are located, and are deactivated if doors are open.  Nevertheless, despite all this modern technology, if an emergency should ever occur it’s still down to the fire-fighters to battle their way in and control the situation.
More routine duties include providing standby fire crews to cover refuelling duties that take place while passengers are on board; or perhaps during potentially hazardous work that involves a potential fire hazard such as welding.  Prevention is better than cure of course, so recurrent fire protection training is also provided for all airport workers and flight attendants.
 
Joining up
The fire service’s new recruits must be a maximum of 35 years old, be able to pass a rigorous medical examination and be put through a selection process that includes theoretical, practical and physical fitness tests.
‘Fire 7’, a Ziegler FLF80 equipped with a fuselage-piercing Snozzle is the first of two such vehicles ordered by Munich Airport. (KEY-Tom Allett)

Basic training is usually carried out with the local government fire department and is based on general fire-fighting practice.  This will last for approximately six months before the successful candidates move on to a further 18-month period of specialist training that involves dealing with topics including aircraft, passenger rescues and specialist buildings and hazards.
Every fire-fighter is also trained for a specialist task, which he or she will be responsible for in addition to their regular duties.  The possibilities are wide-ranging and include tasks such as incident management, equipment maintenance, operating breathing apparatus, or perhaps even developing carpentry or welding skills.  In addition, all fire-fighters must have a detailed knowledge of the airport’s sprinkler, smoke extraction and fire alarm systems.
 
Deliveries
Despite its already high standards the fire service continues to receive further state-of-the-art equipment.  Recent deliveries include the first of two sets of vehicle-mounted access ladders, which enable the fires crews to reach the top deck of the giant Airbus A380.  They have Rosenbauer-built bodies riding on a Mercedes-Benz chassis.  The first set was delivered in March and the second is set to arrive in the autumn of 2010.  Munich is home to Lufthansa’s second largest base and the German flag-carrier is due to take delivery of its first ‘super jumbo’ this autumn.
Another new fire department arrival is the first of two Ziegler fire tenders equipped with a cabin-piercing ‘Snozzle’ on the end of its water cannon.  The Snozzle enables fire-fighting teams to spray water directly into an aircraft’s fuselage by puncturing through its roof or walls.  This can save vital seconds in situations where circumstances may temporarily delay the fire-fighters from entering the fuselage themselves.