By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetMay 31, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. " Fort Benning first responders debuted new crash vehicles this month to respond to aircraft-rescue firefighting.
Fire and Emergency Services added two Striker 3000s to its fleet of aircraft response vehicles May 7.
The department traded out an older vehicle and will upgrade its reserve truck, bringing the number of aircraft rescue trucks to five.
The tank of one Striker holds 3,000 gallons of water, an increase of 100 percent over the station’s other four response trucks, which held a combined total of 5,500 gallons. Each also contains 500 pounds of dense foam for fire suppression.
Strikers add a significant amount of firefighting power to the airfield’s fire station, said district chief Rick Pagels, who oversees the station.
The station at Lawson Army Airfield, located across from the main terminal at Freedom Hall, is one of four fire stations on Fort Benning. The other three, spread across Main Post and Harmony Church, respond primarily to structure fires. A fifth is at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga. The airfield station’s main mission is to respond to plane crashes.
Firefighters will now be able to respond with an additional 2,000 gallons of water and 1,000 pounds of dry chemicals than before if the entire fleet is sent to an accident scene.
Key components include a roof and bumper turrets, a dry chemical system, two handheld fire hoses, a fire pump, foam proportioning system and a cooling system.
The turrets can pump between 300 and 1,200 gallons per minute and are controlled by a joystick. A cockpit-style instrument panel inside the cab puts controls within easy reach. Drivers can direct pumps, water pressure, foam and other resources without leaving the vehicle.
“It’s arguably the best crash truck on the market … it’s technologically superior to anything else out there,” said Robert Brown, a firefighter at the station. “I’ve driven a lot of different trucks throughout my career and this is a mighty nice one.”
Pagels said this turret feature is especially useful when responding to aircraft accidents, where high heat can prevent firefighters from getting close enough to extinguish flames. Burning jet fuel is four times hotter than a house fire, he said.
With the vehicle upgrade, the station now has Category 8 capability at the airfield, meaning it can put down more than 8,000 gallons of water in three minutes or less if needed, ranking it closer to the South’s busiest airport. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is rated a Category 10 and can disperse more than 10,000 gallons in that time frame. It also has a Striker 3000 in its fleet.
For pilots, it means choosing an emergency landing spot gets easier.
“There have been instances in the distant past where pilots refused to land here " we were probably a Category 2 or 3 at the time. They had serious problems and needed to land immediately,” Pagels said. “In many emergencies involving landing gear, the plane is flying fine and the problem won’t manifest itself until it lands.
If I know I may land skidding on the plane’s belly and I had a choice between a place that could only deliver 2,200 gallons and one that could deliver close to 10,000, I’m going to the place with more water.”
The vehicle provides an unobstructed, panoramic view in the driver’s seat with almost 80 square feet of glass. A camera mounted on top of the vehicle gives 360-degree views.
A key element of the Striker is its maneuverability, Pagels said.
The 43.5-ton Striker is powered by a turbocharged diesel engine and can reach 50 miles per hour in 35 seconds and hit a top speed of 70 mph. The truck is prepared to navigate debris fields, descending or ascending up to 50 percent grades and climbing walls up to 17 inches high.
“You never know where a pilot is going to crash. Often when planes crash, there is (wreckage) around the fuselage. You have to be able to go off-road, drive over the top of the debris field and clear culverts, low walls and anything else they might’ve run into,” Pagels said.
In addition to crash response, the station also lends support during training events when Ranger units do special operations at the airfield such as night flying and hot refuels of aircraft. The Striker’s FLIR infrared camera capability means firefighters never miss a beat.
“In the past, drivers had trouble seeing where aircraft and personnel were and this resolves all that,” Pagels said.
The Strikers are designed with the worst-case scenario in mind, a moment Pagels said he hopes never to see at the airfield.
But, with the upgrade, pilots looking to make an emergency landing, as well as aircrews assigned to Fort Benning, can know that the installation’s first responders have the best equipment on the market to aid them, he said.