Air­port Res­cue and Fire Fight­ing (ARFF) ser­vices are vi­tal for the safety of air­port op­er­a­tions by en­sur­ing rapid intervention, quick knock-down and swift res­cue ex­er­cises. The ma­jor ar­eas of con­cern in avi­a­tion are pas­sen­gers, air­port in­stal­la­tion, air­craft move­ment and avi­a­tion fuel. As per the sta­tis­tics, most of the air­craft crashes oc­cur within the vicin­ity of the air­port.

The pro­vi­sion for the means to deal with an air­craft ac­ci­dent or an in­ci­dent oc­cur­ring at, or in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity of an aero­drome as­sumes pri­mary im­por­tance. It is within this area that there is the great­est pos­si­bil­ity of sav­ing lives. ARFF must as­sume at all times the need for extinguishing a fire, which may oc­cur ei­ther im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing an air­craft ac­ci­dent or at any time dur­ing res­cue op­er­a­tions.

Air­craft fire­fight­ing tech­niques are very com­pli­cated in na­ture, re­quir­ing skills and train­ing with ad­her­ence to very high stan­dards. Mul­ti­task­ing skills are cru­cial as fire con­trol, sup­pres­sion, res­cue, med­i­cal triage, etc., need to com­mence si­mul­ta­ne­ously.


The prin­ci­pal ob­jec­tive of a res­cue and fire­fight­ing ser­vice is to save lives in the event of an air­craft ac­ci­dent or in­ci­dent oc­cur­ring at an aero­drome or around its im­me­di­ate vicin­ity. The res­cue and fire­fight­ing ser­vices are pro­vided to cre­ate and main­tain sur­viv­able con­di­tions, to pro­vide egress routes for oc­cu­pants and to ini­ti­ate the res­cue of those oc­cu­pants, who are un­able to en­sure their own es­cape from the air­craft on fire with­out di­rect aid.

The most im­por­tant fac­tors re­spon­si­ble for an ef­fec­tive res­cue op­er­a­tion in a sur­viv­able air­craft ac­ci­dent are: the train­ing re­ceived, the ef­fec­tive­ness of the equip­ment and the speed with which the per­son­nel and equip­ment des­ig­nated for res­cue and fire­fight­ing pur­poses can be put into use.

The num­ber and type of fire­fight­ing ap­pli­ances based at an air­port will be de­ter­mined by the air­port’s cat­e­gory. Air­ports in In­dia are cat­e­gorised from ‘01’ to ‘10’ de­pend­ing on the type and size of air­craft they han­dle. The AAI’S Chen­nai and Kolkata air­ports are ‘Cat­e­gory-10’ as they cater to the big­gest air­craft, namely the Air­bus A380, and, there­fore, re­quire ex­ten­sive res­cue and fire­fight­ing cover as de­ter­mined by the Direc­torate Gen­eral of Civil Avi­a­tion (DGCA).

The op­er­a­tional ob­jec­tive of the ARFF is to achieve the re­sponse time of two min­utes, not ex­ceed­ing three min­utes (in op­ti­mum vis­i­bil­ity and sur­face con­di­tions), to any point of each op­er­a­tional run­way and for any other part of the move­ment area.

Re­sponse time is con­sid­ered to be the time be­tween the ini­tial call to the ARFF, and the time when the first re­spond­ing ve­hi­cle(s) is (are) in po­si­tion to ap­ply foam at a rate of at least 50 per cent of the dis­charge rate spec­i­fied for the air­port fire cat­e­gory.

The ARFF ser­vices will re­spond to all air­craft emer­gen­cies within the air­port’s bound­aries and will also re­spond to ‘off air­port’ in­ci­dents that fall within eight kilo­me­tres of the air­port bound­ary. All in­ci­dents that oc­cur out­side the air­port bound­ary are the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the lo­cal fire and res­cue ser­vice author­ity serv­ing

that lo­ca­tion. While lo­cal fire­fight­ers are trained to deal with air­craft ac­ci­dents, they do not re­ceive the same level of train­ing as air­port fire­fight­ers, whose ex­per­tise is more spe­cialised.

Some of the other in­ci­dents that ARFF deals with in­clude road in­ci­dents in the air­port, as well as chem­i­cal spillages, fires/ res­cues in air­port build­ings and spe­cial ser­vice calls on the air­port. Fire­fight­ers at ma­jor air­ports are spe­cially trained to han­dle Chem­i­cal, Bi­o­log­i­cal, Ra­di­o­log­i­cal and Nu­clear (CBRN) emer­gen­cies in co­or­di­na­tion with the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity (NDMA).


To meet the op­er­a­tional ob­jec­tive, as closely as pos­si­ble in less than op­ti­mum con­di­tions of vis­i­bil­ity, es­pe­cially dur­ing low-vis­i­bil­ity op­er­a­tions – suit­able guid­ance, equip­ment and/or pro­ce­dures for res­cue and fire­fight­ing ser­vices are pro­vided. The fire­fight­ing ve­hi­cles and equip­ment used by Air­port Fire Ser­vices (AFS) are the most ad­vanced in terms of tech­nol­ogy.

The num­ber and type of fire­fight­ing ap­pli­ances based at an air­port will also be de­ter­mined by the air­port’s cat­e­gory. Since the ‘Cat­e­gory-10’ air­port re­quires ex­ten­sive res­cue and fire­fight­ing cover, the fire ap­pli­ances used by ARFF nor­mally con­sist of a fleet of large high-vol­ume pump­ing ve­hi­cles known as Airfield Crash Fire Ten­ders (ACFT), which are ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing an enor­mous amount of foam or other fire extinguishing com­po­nent or equip­ment in bulk, and then ap­ply­ing it un­der mas­sive pres­sure and vol­ume at the scene of the fire. Most air­port fire ap­pli­ances are equipped with a roof-mounted high vol­ume ‘mon­i­tor’ or ‘tur­ret’ that can shoot the fire extinguishing com­po­nent to huge dis­tances while in mo­tion. This means that an ap­proach­ing fire ap­pli­ance can be­gin tackling flames be­fore it is po­si­tioned close to the scene of the fire. AAI has ACFT Rosen­bauer Pan­ther (Aus­tria make) and TATRA T815 (Czech Repub­lic make) in its fleet at all air­ports.


A Rosen­bauer Pan­ther ACFT is equipped with a Euro-v com­pli­ant en­gine hav­ing an ac­cel­er­a­tion of 0-80 km within 28 sec­onds, while fully loaded. Its wa­ter tank ca­pac­ity is 10000 litres, while its foam tank ca­pac­ity is 1300 litres. The roof mounted tur­ret can spray an as­tound­ing 6,000 litres per minute up to a dis­tance of 90 me­ters us­ing pow­er­ful built-in pumps.


Air­port fire­fight­ers spe­cialise in deal­ing with com­plex fires and res­cues from the air­craft. A great deal of their daily rou­tine is spent train­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in drills for such events. Un­like their lo­cal author­ity coun­ter­parts, air­port fire­fight­ers have to un­dergo train­ing ev­ery five years to re­main com­pe­tent. For the pur­poses of train­ing per­son­nel, AAI main­tains two Fire Train­ing Cen­tres (FTC) at Delhi and Kolkata.

AAI Res­cue and Fire Ser­vices have been com­mit­ted to un­der­tak­ing ef­forts on the fo­cused mis­sion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion to achieve the high­est stan­dards of safety and qual­ity in air traf­fic ser­vices and air­port man­age­ment by pro­vid­ing state-of-the-art in­fra­struc­ture for to­tal cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion, con­tribut­ing to the eco­nomic growth and pros­per­ity of the na­tion.

A fire­fighter in ac­tion

A Rosen­bauer Pan­ther crash fire ten­der in ac­tion

Apex for­ma­tion by ARFF crew dur­ing a mock drill

ARFF crew dur­ing a rou­tine train­ing ses­sion at FTC, Delhi

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