Like a Panther

The Panther is equipped with tinted windows, plus bumper and overhead turrets, roof-mounted infra-red camera and a 665hp engine.

A new fire-fighting vehicle enhances an airport’s safety and index rating, Carroll McCormick reports.

The Panther is equipped with tinted windows, plus bumper and overhead turrets, roof-mounted infra-red camera and a 665hp engine.

Duane Ziegler has been a firefighter with the Montrose Regional Airport in Montrose, Colorado for 15 years, and its fire chief for the past ten years.  When the time came to replace the airport’s 15-year-old E-ONE Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) vehicle, Ziegler took the opportunity to specify features that would improve the effectiveness and flexibility of his crew’s fire-fighting capabilities.
The airport’s new Rosenbauer Panther 4×4, delivered this June 6, has two features in particular that meet these goals: a structural panel and an encapsulated dry chemical delivery system.  With a rated suction capacity of 1,850 US gal (7,002 lit) per minute, the structural panel allows the Panther to draw water from unpressurised sources.  For example, one of Ziegler’s strategies is to draw from a 3,000 gal (11,355 lit) folding drop tank that came with a 2,500 gal (9,463 lit) tender donated to the airport by the Montrose Fire Protection District last December.
The design of the structural panel also allows crew to forward water from the drop tank, kept replenished by the tender, via the Panther to the E-ONE.  This capability enhances the airport’s fire-fighting ability, as the E-ONE is a strictly pump-and-roll vehicle.
“I can have the tender come up and put down and fill up the drop tank.  We attach a 5in [diameter], 10ft [long] suction hose to the Panther and put the other end in the drop tank.  We can re-supply both ARFF vehicles.  I can stay on scene and I don’t have to go hit a hydrant.  That is the biggest thing I wanted out of the new ARFF vehicle: to be stationary with both rigs without having to hit a hydrant.  I’ve read a lot of reports of airports that have to do that,” Ziegler explains.
The structural panel is, in effect, a plumbing enhancement.  It is standard on all Rosenbauer ARFF vehicles, according to Tague Johnson, ARFF sales co-ordinator with Rosenbauer America, General Division.  The structural panel on the Montrose Panther also includes four 2.5in (6.35cm) discharges, two on each side, to which the firefighters can attach hoses for attacking fires in structures such as hangars or the terminal building.  “The structural panel gives you more versatility,” says Johnson.
Montrose’s new Panther also includes two 250ft (76m), 1.75in (4.45cm) pre-connected hoses, one on each side of the vehicle.  The Panther also carries 250ft (76.2m) of loose 2.5in hose.
The encapsulated dry chemical delivery system is part of the Rosenbauer RM30 HVLA (high-volume, low-attack) primary bumper turret.  Dry chemical is pumped in the centre of a water stream (encapsulated) through a Hydro-Chem ranger 1.0 nozzle purchased from Williams Fire Hazard and Control Inc, based in Mauriceville, Texas.
“Now the dry chemical will carry much further without being blown away by the wind.  It increases the range quite a bit.  In the old truck the chemical turret is separate from the water turret.  When the dry chemical comes out it is affected immediately by the wind.  It can blow right back at you and you can’t see anything,” Ziegler explains.
Three joysticks: left for the bumper turret, right for the overhead turret and a flat-panel controller for the forward-looking infra-red camera.

The E-ONE’s primary turret is on the roof, but Ziegler specified that the Panther’s primary turret should be on the bumper; it has a boom on it that lowers down to within 2 to 3ft (0.60 to 0.90cm) of the ground.  In addition to the increased visibility the encapsulated delivery system offers, Ziegler adds, “With the low angle of attack you can get the dry chemical to the target.”
The Panther’s bumper and roof turrets are both controlled by joy sticks in the cab mounted alongside the steering wheel; the E-ONE’s main, roof turret is manually controlled and its bumper turret is controlled by a joy stick in the cab.
The Panther also has a roof-mounted Pathfinder RTM vehicle vision system, manufactured by Portland, Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. Ziegler stresses the advantages of this infra-red (thermal imaging) system: “In inclement weather you can see the aircraft.  You use the FLIR to look at an airplane.  For example, if there is a possible fire in the cargo area, you can look to see where the hot spot is.  Then you can go directly to the seat of the fire.”
Like the E-ONE, the Panther has a 1,500 gal (5,678 lit) water capacity, a 500lb (227kg) dry chemical capacity and a 200 gal (757 lit) foam capacity.  The foam can be delivered via the bumper or roof turrets, the ground sweeps or pre-connects, the twin agent line, and from the four 2.5 in connections on the pump panel.
In many other respects, however, the Panther is more of an upgrade than strictly a replacement vehicle; for example, it has a 665hp engine, compared to the 425hp engine in the E-ONE.  Off the starting line the Panther accelerates much more quickly to its top speed, as Ziegler observed during a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection this August.  The FAA paid 95% of the US$689,178 price tag for the Panther.  Montrose County and the State of Colorado each paid 2.5% of the purchase price.
The 10kW hydraulic generator, which runs off the Panther’s engine, is integral to the vehicle; the generator on the E-ONE is an independent piece of equipment.  “The generator on the Panther is compact, smaller and will have fewer maintenance problems,” Ziegler explains.
The Panther has cab space for three crew, with three headsets.  There is another headset at the structural panel.  Ziegler’s team now has air conditioning, combined with tinted side windows and pull-down shades for the windshield, all of which are greatly appreciated in the Colorado heat.  Rosenbauer also applied a film inside the windshield to cut ultra-violet radiation.
Ziegler’s crew has also noticed that the Panther’s handling is superior.  This is especially evident on Taxiway B, which is scheduled to be rebuilt.  Johnson attributes the handling to Rosenbauer’s high-performance coil-spring suspension and welded tubular-frame rails. “There have been a lot of rollovers with ARFF vehicles.  Our suspension allows our vehicles to have a lower centre of gravity.”
New capability: the Panther can suck from a drop tank, unlike the old pump-and-roll ARFF vehicle.

The learning curve with the Panther was not too steep, Ziegler reports: “I made my guys go out every day and train.  It took them about a week to become comfortable with the Panther.  The main difference is that there are a lot more switches on the Panther −  push button − instead of the toggles on the E-ONE.”
The Montrose airport firehouse is located just south of the main terminal, next to the main terminal ramp.  It is roughly at the midpoint of the 100ft wide (30.5m) by 7,500ft (2,286m) secondary runway 13/31; the main runway, 17/35, is 150ft (45.7m) wide and 10,000ft (3,048m) long.  The airport has five full-time firefighters, plus two part-time firefighters who work full time for the Montrose Fire Protection District when they are not at the airport.  “They come in for training and fill in when my guys go on vacation, get sick or are sent out for training,” Ziegler says.
The airport is rated Index B – for aircraft at least 90ft (27.4m) but less than 126ft (38.4m) in length.  It handles aircraft up to MD-80/Airbus A319, and a lot of CRJs and Dash-8s.  It handled 20,599 movements in 2008.  Between this January and the end of August that figure was 15,877.
The Panther has allowed the airport to obtain a temporary Index C rating from the FAA, which will permit it to handle aircraft up to 159ft (48.46m) in length.
“In 2010 the airport will be receiving Boeing 757-200 aircraft for two days. “Montrose will get a temporary C index rating, which requires us to have a total of 3,000 gal of water, 200 gal of foam and dry chemical, supplied with either one or two trucks.  In order to meet the C index permanently, we would need another truck,” Ziegler explains.
The Panther is the airport’s new primary fire-fighting vehicle, and is first out of the door for an emergency response.  However, the E-ONE will continue to play an important role as back-up vehicle until it reaches the FAA-mandated retirement age of 25 years.  Also, if the Panther is out of service, FAA regulations allow the E-ONE to be used as the primary ARFF vehicle until the Panther is repaired and back in service.
The airport and the Montrose Fire Protection District have a mutual aid agreement that includes making the Panther available for off-airport emergencies.  “The primary reason would be a plane crash off-airport or a tanker truck rollover.  Our foam, and capacity to dispense it, is greater than anything they have.  Also, they carry Class A foam and we carry Class B foam for hydrocarbons,” Ziegler says.
Montrose airport conducted an emergency preparedness exercise on August 22.  With the Panther leading the ARFF response, Ziegler’s team now provides a greater range of fire-fighting services.