Firefighting is an exciting, demanding, and rewarding career. What most people don't realise is that often there are different specialities of firefighting. One particular speciality for firefighters is airport firefighting. Airports are unique environments that place special demands on firefighters, and when things go wrong, airports need a special type of firefighter. Many firefighters that specialise in airports are part of military units deployed around the world. But, a growing number of airports are managed by municipal or privately operated internal fire brigades
About the Job
Airport firefighters work hard at preventing fires so they don't have to fight fires later. Airport firefighters do daily inspections of equipment and grounds as well as storage facilities for chemicals so they can catch and repair potential hazards before they cause a fire. Airport firefighters also spend a tremendous amount of time training and planning for the job. They train to generate familiarity with their equipment and its capabilities as well as to prepare for any situation and develop a sense of teamwork. Firefighters spend many hours honing new skills such as rescue techniques. Firefighters may be part of special teams, such as rapid intervention or rescue teams. By necessity, airports store large amounts of hazardous materials, such as jet fuels and other flammable products. These hazardous materials can burn at extremely high temperatures, and some may react to water, so simply spraying water is not sufficient for all fires. Airport firefighters must also be concerned with the environmental impact of the chemicals stored at airports. If there is a spill or leak, firefighters must know how to properly contain and control those chemicals.
The First Step
The first thing that someone who wants to become an airport firefighter needs to do is become a regular firefighter. Different states have their own requirements for firefighters. Qualifying sometimes begins with a test like New York City's Fire Academy entrance exam. In other areas, a civil service test may be required. Not all states require tests, as many states with rural, all-volunteer fire brigades have less stringent requirements. Whether or not an entrance exam is required, all states require firefighters to undergo some level of training and to complete classwork to become a firefighter. Once firefighters complete their initial training, other courses are available to help them advance in their careers and most importantly, to keep themselves and their communities safe. Training courses include rescue techniques, hazard materials (HAZMAT) and CPR first aid training. In order to apply for airport firefighter training, applicants must be certified as NFPA Firefighter II and Hazardous Materials Operations Level.
From Firefighter to Airport Firefighter
After serving as part of a regular fire brigade and gaining experience, firefighters may attend training to become certified airport firefighters. Often, military units have their own training systems and schools for airport firefighter candidates. Many other programs are offered to municipal or civilian fire brigades through college or university fire science programs or state fire service programs. Some airport firefighter programs are even offered through the Department of Homeland Security. Airport firefighter certification programs must meet NFPA 1003 standard. A typical airport firefighter training program is an approximately 40 hour course that covers topics from aircraft familiarisation to instruction on public relations, such as "Coping with Media" and culminates in live fire exercises called "hot drills."
After serving on and gaining experience with an airport fire brigade, firefighter careers can continue to develop. A number of organisations offer airport firefighter officer courses designed to train firefighters to attain the next level of leadership in their departments. Firefighters may also specialise in certain areas, such as rescue or HAZMAT technician. Many firefighters also serve as EMTs or paramedics.
Many airport fire brigades are part of the military or Air National Guard. Many large commercial airports have their own dedicated fire brigades on site for quick response. Some municipal or rural departments who, although they do not specialise in airport firefighting, may train for airport fires because of potential threats in their regions.