RFFS Procedures for Helicopter Emergencies

RFFS Procedures for Helicopter Emergencies


This article describes some of the specifics of Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (RFFS) procedures for emergencies involving helicopters. It describes some of the specific threats associated with helicopters and lists some of the procedures that are followed by RFFS units.

Helicopter Specific Hazards and Challenges

The main hazards that a helicopter presents are:

  • The main rotor – if rotating, it can cause:
    • direct damage by hitting a person or an object;
    • indirect damage due to the strong airflows created;
  • The tail rotor – rotating at a very high speed it is nearly invisible;

Helicopter crash specifics challenges:

  • Due to the lack of a fixed wing, a helicopter is less likely to remain upright.
  • Heavy impact landings cause undercarriages to collapse and may cause the helicopter to roll.
  • Entering a helicopter on its side presents a significant challenge for RFFS personnel – one of the sides is against the ground and the other one is facing upwards.
  • Cutting through the helicopter floor or the roof of the fuselage to gain access, is usually not an option due to the position of fuel tanks and engines.

RFFS Procedures

The information in this section is derived from RFFS handbooks. It is offered as suggested best practice and is not intended to supersede local instructions and procedures.

All general RFFS procedures apply when dealing with a helicopter emergency. As well as those, there are a number of precautions to be followed to reduce helicopter-specific hazards:

  • A helicopter should be approached in a crouching position, to avoid the main rotor, if the engines are running.
  • The presence of a ladder can be very helpful when dealing with a helicopter that is on its side.
  • If the pilot is conscious and able to give instructions, the helicopter should be approached in full view of the pilot following their guidance.
  • As a general rule a helicopter should not be approached from behind due to the danger that the tail rotor presents. An exception to this rule is the Chinook helicopter where, due to the pitch of the blades, the safest way to approach is from behind.
  • Under crash conditions when the pilot has been incapacitated it may be advisable to approach from the rear. In such cases RFFS personnel should keep to the opposite side of the tail from that of the stabilising rotor.
  • Engine air intake and exhaust efflux areas should be avoided.
  • On elevated terrain the helicopter should be approached from the downhill side.
  • Any tools should be carried low: ideally below waist level and never above the shoulder.
  • The helipad should be kept clear of loose articles that can be dislodged by rotor wash and potentially cause damage or injury.

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