Monday, February 12, 2007
7 News Features: Just Plane Dangerous
You're saying goodbye one minute, and flames surround you the next. That's how quickly a plane crash or an aircraft emergency can happen. It's those seconds that count. Tonight, we're taking you to a place no TV cameras have ever been invited before -- to the front lines of the firefight. Dave Kartunen joins us live with this exclusive special assignment report, "Just Plane Dangerous."
WSVN -- We're here on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport at Fire Station Number Ten, a brand new building with high tech equipment.
Twenty-three million passengers pass through this airport every year. That is 700 flights a day.
And although flying is the safest form of travel, emergency personnel know it's all about preparing for the worst.
In a matter of seconds a routine flight turns to tragedy.
Last August, a U.S. Airways plane caught fire on the runway at Miami International Airport.
In 1997, a Fine Air Cargo plane crashed, seconds after takeoff from MIA -- five people died when the plane burst into flames.
When it comes to fire on an airplane, there is nothing more dangerous.
Chief Alan Black: "This would be a nightmare scenario. At the end of the day, what you end up with is a large fire with a large number of victims."
At Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, those victims' lives are in the hands of this elite unit of firefighters.
The Broward Sheriff's Office Aircraft Fire Rescue Team -- they're on the tarmac, on-call, 24-7.
Tony Mills: "When the bells go off in the fire house, we run."
Keith Martin: "We don't want it to happen, but if it does happen, we'll be there."
To be prepared for the worst, this group has to train in real fire scenarios every year.
For the first time, they took just one station with them as they faced the flames at the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport's state-of-the-art training facility.
Chief Alan Black: "We can duplicate the scenarios of an actual fire right here. It's one of the very few in the world."
Here, two massive machines re-create very real flames, both inside and outside of a plane.
Outside, in a 150-foot fire pit, firefighters race against time, putting out a fuel spill.
Tony Mills: "Once a plane smacks down and starts fuel running all over everywhere, there's fire everywhere."
Fuel fires spread fast and are one of the most intense fires firefighters face.
Tony Mills: "It can get up to 2,500 degrees, and it will burn through the fuselage of the aircraft in 90 seconds."
That means they have only a minute and a half to save hundreds of lives trapped inside the burning plane. Their only weapon is 3,000 gallons of foam.
Tony Mills: "What that does is smothers and cools the fire. It starts sweeping it off the fuselage and creating a rescue path so that people on board the aircraft can get off."
When fire breaks out inside the plane, fire fighting is even harder.
Robert McAllister: "What you have in an aircraft is a mobile home fire on top of a fuel farm."
A fire in here can double in size in 15 seconds.
Dave Kartunen: "This is not your typical structure fire. These fires in the fuselage, they burn hotter, they burn faster -- in tighter confines -- and around a lot of equipment that firefighters aren't necessarily working with every day."
Robert McAllister: "We know where the different components are, what we're dealing with, where they're at, how to shut them off, what's dangerous, what's not dangerous."
And there are hazards around every turn.
One wrong move -- like spraying foam into a microwave in the galley -- could get you electrocuted.
Other parts of the plane can become downright explosive.
Tony Mills: "You have to know throttles, bottles, and batteries, how to shut a battery system off, how to disconnect a battery up under a plane, how the wheels would blow if there's a fire in the brake system."
It's just plain dangerous.
That's why it's critical they get those surprises here in a controlled environment, because it may help them save innocent lives when the clock is ticking.
Keith Martin: "This is as close to the real thing as it gets."
Robert McAllister: "I hope this is the biggest fire I ever fight."
Tony Mills: "We hope that we never, ever have to use this training."
Next time you fly, count to 90 seconds -- it may be all these guys have to save your life.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Broward Sheriff's Office Fire Rescue