17:15 PM

Giant fireball lights up night sky as part of TPA’s annual ARFF training

Airport firefighters are required to go through the annual exercise in addition to other monthly training.

A bright orange glow lit up the sky around Tampa International Airport Thursday as members of TPA’s highly specialized ARFF Team (Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Facility) worked to put out a simulated plane crash fire.

The exercise involved lighting a pool of jet fuel on fire which sent flames shooting 40 to 50 feet into the air around a mock cockpit and fuselage.

“You can see this from miles away,” said Tampa Fire Chief Oren Hanson, who heads up the ARFF team at TPA.

The training exercise is required annually by the FAA to keep the firefighters assigned to the ARFF team ready for even the biggest emergencies.

“It’s a very low frequency, but high-risk event, so they’re constantly training,” said Chief Hanson. “Because you have an airplane that could have anywhere from 20 to 300 passengers, you have a lot of life safety that we’re really worried about.”

Fighting an aircraft fire is much different then typical structure fires due to the massive quantities of jet fuel usually associated with commercial jets.

“Jet fuel burns a lot hotter, and it burns very quickly,” said Chief Hanson. “With planes we have a certain amount of time they’re supposed to be evacuated. Our crash units here have a three-minute response time to the runway to get to that aircraft.”

The ARFF division is also equipped with specialized vehicles that carry large amounts of foam and between 1,500 and 3,000 gallons of water. Many of the trucks even have a special nozzle capable of piercing the fuselage of an aircraft to pump foam directly inside.

Chief Hanson says the ARFF team responds to several hundred alerts a year, but thankfully very few end up turning into a major emergency.

The team also responds to the airport’s medical calls, elevator entrapments and other emergencies at the airport.