Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Training at PIT ARFF training course sparks interest of first responders nationwide

By Natalie Fiorilli

Believe it or not there’s a right way to spray water – That’s one of the skills that more than 1,000 first responders learn every year at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Traveling from as far as San Juan International in Puerto Rico, firefighters from airports across the country travel to Pittsburgh to participate in fire training programs offered throughout the year at PIT’s Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) training facility. The number of participants continues to grow each year.

The facility, located about a mile south of the airport, features a computer-controlled simulator system with an aircraft fuselage in the center of a 135-foot diameter burn area. The simulator, which is fueled by propane, provides the opportunity for emergency personnel to train for aviation-specific incidents including fuel spill fires, engine fires, wheel brake fires, and interior fires (e.g. cabin, flight deck, and lavatory).

Why Pittsburgh?

The course instructors are all active members of the Airport Authority’s fire department, which is responsible for two airports – Pittsburgh International and Allegheny County Airport, located in West Mifflin, Pa. Firefighters at PIT are unique in that they have a working knowledge of the operations of both a medium-sized airport as well as a smaller, general aviation airport, Deputy Fire Chief Tom Bonura said.

“Our instructors have the ability to read their audience and adapt the curriculum to meet their needs,” said Bonura, who also serves as an instructor at the fire training facility. “That’s what sets us apart from other ARFF training courses.”

The courses at Pittsburgh International also are different from those offered at many airports because they offer certifications from the National Fire Protection Association, an important credential for firefighters.

Each program consists of classroom training as well as practical experience in which students participate in firefighting simulations, practice search and rescue operations, and vehicle operations, among others.

For Corey Pipp (pictured below) of General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, participating in PIT’s basic ARFF course held in September was a step toward becoming a full-time airport firefighter.

“I heard it’s one of the best schools for ARFF training,” said Pipp when asked why he chose to travel to Pittsburgh for the course. “I figured I might as well make the best of my training and get the best education possible.”

Pittsburgh International has been able to attract participants nationwide since the program began in 1999, because it was one of the initial four Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-regional ARFF training facilities in the country. Other airports that provide ARFF courses include Dallas/Fort Worth International, Philadelphia International, and Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky.

The FAA requires recurrent training for airport firefighters, along with courses including Part 139 Live Fire Training. Other trainings simply provide the opportunity to strengthen skills.

“This is something that is necessary for our airport to run,” said Jeff Fierro, a firefighter at Elmira Corning Regional Airport in Horseheads, N.Y., who recently participated in a course at PIT.

PIT offers training year-round for day-long and week-long courses including FAA Part 139 Live Fire Training, the ARFF basic course, a class on driving and operating ARFF vehicles, and Incident Command System training, which is also offered for a wider range of first responders and business professionals.

And in case you were wondering about that right way to spray water, it depends on distance from the fire and getting the angle just right. Additional information on PIT’s ARFF training program and online registration can be found on the airport’s website.

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