Thursday August 18, 2016
During the recent debate regarding the City of South Burlington joining the F35 NEPA lawsuit, one question that came to the forefront was whether the city’s first responders have the equipment necessary to protect themselves and the community in the event of an aircraft crash. South Burlington Fire Chief Doug Brent was on hand at an early August city council meeting to give an overview of the fire department’s equipment and to discuss the ways they work in tandem with the Burlington International Airport and Vermont Air National Guard during emergency situations.
Chief Brent explained that the South Burlington Fire Department (SBFD) firefighter equipment such as helmets, coats, and breathing apparatus are the same as the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG), but their trucks and training are different. For instance, VTANG members undergo Aircraft Rescue and Firefighter training (ARFF) which involves instruction on the use of parachutes, emergency seats, ejection seats, and forcible entry, and VTANG trucks are equipped with specialty fire extinguishing agents for use in a jet fuel fire which burns at 2,000 to 2,400 degrees. The two departments train together on a regular basis, share their areas of expertise, and hold full scale emergency drills that include mock crisis situations.
In the past ten years, the SBFD has responded to 95 events at the airport, but no crashes. Brent added that when there is a military aircraft accident, it is their responsibility, by federal mandate to respond. When they are called upon, they are responsible for logistics and organizing all of the other fire departments that may also arrive. They set up a mobile command post and all trucks report to them.
Brent explained that different types of crashes would require different responses. On-field incidents are most manageable because, if they occur, they are contained in a fenced area and the firefighting team is already on site. If a crash happens outside of the air field, the response is more challenging since it could happen anywhere; near people, in a remote area without a road, or far from emergency services.
Brent acknowledged that nothing about what his team does is absolute because there are so many variables to any given situation. Although they have chemical protective clothing, it is designed to be used after the fire has been put out. In response to concerns about composites, Brent noted that composites aren’t a new technology and aren’t just in planes, they are often in UPS and FedEx trucks, and in car parts.
City Councilor Pat Nowak asked if Brent would equip the station differently, if he didn’t have the VTANG nearby? Brent said that if they didn’t have the military, the airport would still need to have its own fire department and they would have the same type of equipment to deal with fires. Brent noted that the airport knows all the details of each plane, how many people are on board, how much fuel it has, what it is made of and are therefore well equipped to deal with an incident. Brent did not feel that it would be warranted or a good use of taxpayer funds for SBSD to duplicate equipment the VTANG already has in service.
Meaghan Emery, council vice-chair, recommended a conversation on community outreach begin in regard to what community members should do for their own safety in the event of a crash and suggested the school district should also include such exercises in their emergency preparedness plan in advance of the F35 arrival in 2019.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent