Airport Rescue and Firefighting Services in the United Kingdom

Airport Rescue and Firefighting Services in the United Kingdom

The provision of Rescue and Firefighting Services at all airports and aerodromes in the United Kingdom is a requirement under both British Law and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In the UK Airport Fire Services are usually referred to as "Rescue and Firefighting Services" in contrast to the term "Fire and Rescue Service" (FRS) used by Local Authority Fire Services.

Role of Airport Fire Services

The principle objective of an airport fire and rescue service is "to save lives in the event of an aircraft accident or incident".

This also applies to any other incident where life and property can be saved.

Levels of fire cover

The number and type of firefighting appliances based at an airport will be determined by the airport's category.

Airports in the UK are categorised from 1 to 9 dependant on the type and sioze of aircraft they handle.

A new category, category 10, will become effective when double-decker aircraft commence service. A category 9 airport, caters for the biggest aircraft, and therefore requires extensive rescue and firefighting cover as determined by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Often the RFFS will also be responsible for providing medical cover at the airport. The majority of UK Airport Firefighters are trained to Emergency Medical Technician status.

Levels of response

The Airport RFFS will respond to all fire emergencies within the airport's boundaries including a predetermined distance outside of the airport boundary.

Outside of the pre-determined boundary aircraft incidents become the responsibility of the local authority Fire & Rescue Services.

Whilst local authority FRS firefighters are trained to deal with aircraft accidents they do not receive the same level of training as Airport Firefighters whose expertise are more specialist.

Airport Crews do not respond to incidents off site because it would leave the airport without fire cover. By law if an airport has no fire cover it has to close its runways. This clearly would cause major disruption for air travel and scheduled flights.

Rank structure

For the most part the RFFS follows the same rank structure of the local authority FRS. Senior Officers however are given slightly different titles. The highest ranking Airport Fire Officer is known as a "SAFO" (Senior Airport Fire Officer). Depending on the service the senior officer may also be referred to as the Chief Fire Officer.

Other incidents

Like any modern FRS, airport crews will deal with road traffic collisions on airport property, as well as chemical spillages, fires/rescues in airport buildings and special service calls on site.

Some incidents however wherever possible are passed onto the local authority fire service so that the airport crews can return to give fire cover to the runway.

Large airport fire services such as that based at Heathrow Airport have sufficient personnel and vehicles to deal with most emergencies on site without calling for assistance from the local authority FRS.

Furthermore, Heathrow Airport FRS are capable of performing advanced water rescue and is equipped with several rescue craft for dealing with aircraft incidents on the surrounding marsh land surrounding the airport.

Fire appliances

The number and type of firefighting appliances based at an airport will be determined by the airport's category. [53] Airports in the UK are categorised from 1 to 9, with the new cat 10 to become effective when double-decker aircraft commence service. A category 9 airport, caters for the biggest aircraft, the standards are determined by the Civil Aviation Authority

The fire appliances used by Airport Fire and Rescue Services normally consist of a fleet of large high volume pumping vehicles capable of carrying an enormous amount of foam, or other fire extinguishing media and equipment on bulk, and then applying it under massive pressure and volume at the fire scene.

Most airport fire appliances are equipped with a roof-mounted high volume "monitor" or "nozzle" which can shoot fire extinguishing media huge distances. This means that an approaching fire appliance can begin tackling flames before it has arrived close to the scene of the fire.

Because of their sheer size, airport fire appliances require powerful engines to propel them. In fact by law the airport fire appliances should be capable of reaching any incident within the airport (including the predetermined boundaries outside of the airport) within a set time.

Augmenting the capability of the huge fire appliances are vehicles known as either first attack/first strike or Rapid Intervention vehicles.

They are capable of arriving at the scene of an incident much quicker to begin rescue or firefighting operations. Such appliances vary from small Range Rover-based fire appliances, to much larger truck-based pumps.

In larger airports the rapid intervention vehicles and high volume pumping appliance are supported by "domestic" type fire appliances similar to those used by the local authority FRS.

They are mainly used to respond to emergencies within the buildings around the airport, but also assist at aircraft incidents.


Airport fire fighters specialise in dealing with complex fires and rescues from aircraft . A great deal of their daily routine is spent training and drilling for such eventualities.

Unlike their local authority counterparts Airport Firefighters have to re-qualify every four years to be deemed a competent.

There are many reasons for this.

Firstly Airport firefighters, due to the geographical size of the area they cover, do not respond to as many incidents as Local Authority Firefighters.

The four yearly requalfication policy acts to ensure continued competency in certain areas of the role in which they perform.

Conversely Local Authority firefighter can demonstrate continued competency generally by the amount of calls they deal with each year.

Most airport firefighters are also trained Emergency Medical Technicians to render medical care and first aid within the airport.

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