Roswell Firefighters get hands-on training for fighting aircraft fires on a DC-8 donated by Stewart Industries. Here RIAC’s Unit 1 sprays the engine using the wind and the wind velocity to their best advantage. Jessica Palmer Photo
Stewart Industries, 601 E. Challenger, donated a DC-8 to the Roswell Fire Department for use in its aircraft training program. “It just came up in a conversation. This is only the first one. It will be part of an ongoing program,” Edward Patterson, who does safety and training for Stewart Industries said. “ They have some men who have never used their specialized equipment before.”
RFD Training Division Chief Jason Sweatfield agreed. “Only a couple of guys have experience using the piercing nozzle.” The nozzle cuts through the outer shell like butter and once the aircraft has been pierced, it can discharge water or chemical extinguisher to put out fires in the interior.
Stewart Industries does scrapping and storage of planes. They dismantle the planes, salvage and sell the parts and recycle the metal. The company also sells whole planes to interested parties.
The gift of an aircraft has been a real boon for the RFD. “A lot of airports don’t get this opportunity. Their firefighters have to go to another airport to receive hands-on experience,” said Lt. Terry Chaves of Station No. 4.
Firefighter and equipment operator Steve Chavez said the engine operators need to position the vehicles in order to use the prevailing winds to the best advantage, ideally at a 45-degree angle.
The RFD has to comply with FAA regulations that require Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting operators to provide rescue and firefighting services for air carrier operations. The FAA Rules of Index require specific training be conducted each year. To obtain and maintain the ARFF certification, Fire Station No. 4 personnel must complete training every three months. “We have two sections to cover, personal safety and communications with the tower. We have to go through each aircraft to see where the exits are and how to shut down the engines,” said Chaves.
In real emergency, the RFD split up crews into a manned medical station and one on the scene. “In a fire we can call in different resources.
From the time we get an emergency call out to a plane, we have three minutes. Saving lives comes first. We have to be able to get passengers off the plane and then create a rescue path,” Chaves said.
To date, most of the training has taken place in the classroom. The participants are enjoying the program. Firefighter Mark Brackeen said, “It’s definitely fun, much better than classroom.”
“It’s great to do it in a real aircraft,” said shift commander Lt. Jeff Bechtel.
The practical training, which will last throughout the week, covers the placement of the engines, forcible entry, evacuation and drills.
Sweatfield explained that evacuation presents a special challenge since passengers have a 12-foot drop to the ground.
The daily hands-on training will be divided into crash tracking, communications, wheel and engine fires, and how to deal with the hazardous materials. By the end of the four-day program all 36 members, 12 per shift, will receive experience on the specialized equipment.
Already the firefighters have learned much about what hand tools work and which ones do not, in terms of allowing them to cut through the 2- to 4-inch layered aluminum metal shell.
“You really have to give credit to Stewart for doing this,” said Chavez.
Stewart provides employment for 65 people, all certified aviation mechanics. Patterson received his certification from Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. “We’re based out of Guthrie, Okla., but we moved our operations here in 2006-2007 because it’s much better. There’s more room. It allows us to park more planes.”