Rescue and Fire Fighting Services

Rescue and Fire Fighting Services



Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (RFFS) is also commonly referred to as Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) and occasionally as Crash Fire Rescue (CFR). In all cases, these terms refer to the rescue and fire fighting services provided at an aerodrome which are specifically dedicated to the support of safety in aircraft operation. This special category of fire-fighting involves incident response, hazard mitigation, evacuation and possible rescue of passengers and crew of an aircraft involved in an aerodrome (or potentially off aerodrome) ground emergency.


The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) defines the requirements for aerodrome Rescue and Fire Fighting Service (RFFS) in Annex 14, Volume 1 - Aerodrome Design and Operations. In accordance with this Annex, it is a requirement for Member States to provide rescue and fire-fighting services and equipment at airports under their jurisdiction. ICAO Document 9137-AN/898, Airport Services Manual, Part 1, Rescue and Fire Fighting provides guidance in the implementation of the Annex 14 requirements thereby helping to ensure uniform application amongst the Member States. The Civil Aviation Authority of each State in turn publishes the corresponding regulations and guidance for their operators. Examples of State publications include the United Kingdom CAA CAP 168 and the Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 303.


Modern commercial aircraft can have the capacity to carry several hundred passengers and crew. Therefore, due to the mass casualty potential of an aviation emergency, it is critical that emergency response equipment and personnel arrive at the scene within the minimum possible time. The maximum response time from initial notification until the first vehicle is on scene and spraying fire retardant is defined by State regulation and generally ranges from three to four minutes under conditions of good visibility and uncontaminated surfaces. At large aerodromes, this often means that more than one fire station will be necessary. This timely arrival and the firefighters’ initial mission to protect the aircraft against all hazards, most critically fire, increases the survivability of the passengers and crew on board. Airport firefighters have advanced training in the application of firefighting foams and other agents used to extinguish burning aviation fuel in and around an aircraft. This helps to provide and maintain a path for the evacuating passengers to exit the fire hazard area. Should fire be present within the cabin or encroach upon the cabin from an external fire, the responders must work to control and extinguish those fires as well.


Although there is some disparity among the Member States in the designation of the RFFS capacity of a given aerodrome, the basic premise for determining the normally-declared RFFS requirement is the size of the largest aircraft that it is intended to accept. In most cases, the size determination is based on both the length of the aircraft and the maximum fuselage diameter. As an example, the following chart has been extracted from the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARS).

Table 1.
Aircraft Category for Fire Fighting Aircraft Overall Length Aircraft Maximum Fuselage Width
1 < 9 m 2 m
2 9 m ≤ length < 12 m 2 m
3 12 m ≤ length < 18 m 3 m
4 18 m ≤ length < 24 m 4 m
5 24 m ≤ length < 28 m 4 m
6 28 m ≤ length < 39 m 5 m
7 39 m ≤ length < 49 m 5 m
8 49 m ≤ length < 61 m 7 m
9 61 m ≤ length < 76 m 7 m
10 ≥ 76 m 8 m

To meet the requirements of the Aircraft Category for Fire Fighting, it is necessary for the aerodrome to have a declared minimum fire fighting capacity measured on the basis of the number of available vehicles and their foam production capability. In this respect, the declared Category is that actually available at the time of an aircraft approach, which may temporarily be lower than the Category normally available and so promulgated in official reference publications. When the Category actually declared is less in this way, NOTAM action and, when appropriate, tactical alerting action by ATC is necessary. As an example only, the corresponding requirements from the Canadian Regulations are as follows:

Table 2.
Critical Category for Fire Fighting Quantity of Water Quantity of Complementary Extinguishing Agents Minimum Number of Aircraft Fire-fighting Vehicles Total Discharge Capacity
1 230 l 45 kg 1 230 l/min
2 670 l 90 kg 1 550 l/min
3 1200 l 135 kg 1 900 l/min
4 2400 l 135 kg 1 1800 l/min
5 5400 l 180 kg 1 3000 l/min
6 7900 l 225 kg 2 4000 l/min
7 12100 l 225 kg 2 5300 l/min
8 18200 l 450 kg 3 7200 l/min
9 24300 l 450 kg 3 9000 l/min
10 32300 l 450 kg 3 11200 l/min

Both the above tables are provided for illustrative purposes only. The ones provided by other regulating agencies of other Member States may be slightly different.

Fire Fighting Apparatus

The number and type of firefighting vehicles / appliances based at an airport will be determined by the normally declared category of the airport. Specialized fire vehicles are required for the RFFS function. The design of these vehicles is predicated on many factors but primarily on speed, water-carrying capacity, off-road performance and agent discharge rates. Since an accident could occur anywhere on airport property, sufficient water and other agents must be carried to contain any fire. This will allow for the maximum possibility of a successful evacuation and the best probability of extinguishing or suppressing any post crash fire until additional resources arrive on the scene.

Most airport fire vehicles are equipped with a roof-mounted cannon or nozzle which can shoot fire extinguishing agents large distances. This allows an approaching fire appliance to begin extinguishing flames as it approaches the scene of the fire. Newer vehicles often are equipped with the nozzle mounted on an extendable boom and are also often fitted with a spike that can pierce the fuselage of an aircraft. This allows delivery of water or foam to the interior of an aircraft which can sometimes reduce the risk of flashover.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Burning fuels generate intense radiant heat. Firefighters wear a protective ensemble referred to as a 'fire proximity suit' that is coated with a silvered material designed to reflect heat away from their bodies. They must also wear self-contained breathing apparatus to provide a source of breathable air allowing them to work in an environment of smoke and other super-heated gases. This is especially critical when making entry into the burning cabin of an aircraft.


ICAO Annex 14 directs that “All rescue and fire fighting personnel shall be properly trained to perform their duties in an efficient manner and shall participate in live fire drills commensurate with the types of aircraft and type of firefighting equipment in use at their aerodrome, including pressure-fed fuel fires”. It further states that the training curriculum should include initial and recurrent instruction in at least the following areas:

a) Airport familiarisation;

b) Aircraft familiarisation;

c) Rescue and fire fighting personnel safety;

d) Emergency communications systems on the aerodrome, including aircraft related alarms;

e) Use of the fire hoses, nozzles, turrets and other appliances;

f) Application of extinguishing agents;

g) Emergency aircraft evacuation assistance;

h) Fire fighting operations;

i) Adaptation and use of structural rescue and firefighting equipment for aircraft rescue and fire fighting;

j) Dangerous goods;

k) Familiarisation with fire fighter’s duties under the aerodrome emergency plan;

l) Protective clothing and respiratory protection.

ICAO does not provide guidance on either training frequency or competency standards. As a consequence, there is variation in the type and frequency of training events among member States and there is likely to be a variance in the overall RFFS competency as well.

It is also the case that in some parts of the world, inspections of fire fighting equipment sometimes find that the reductions in the serviceability of equipment, which reduce the Category of cover actually available, have not been followed by the required promulgation.

The aircraft manufacturers provide detailed aircraft rescue and fire fighting charts for each of their products.

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