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Behind the scenes at GFIA is one of the services that few people think of when they think about the airport, but everyone is glad it exists when they need it. That service is the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting unit (ARFF). Comprising one chief, three captains, and 12 firefighters, the unit is divided into three crews – each working 24-hour shifts. The Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting unit does far more than respond to fire calls. In fact, fire calls make up a very small portion of their regular workload.

While their primary responsibility is the safety of the airfield, ARFF spends their days doing many other activities. They respond to roughly 140 calls each year, nearly two-thirds of which are medical calls at the passenger terminal facility. These range from minor incidents to major medical emergencies. ARFF personnel provide blood pressure checks each Wednesday morning in the Grand Hall of the terminal building for airport patrons and employees. They provide First Aid and CPR Training to airport employees, as well as fire extinguisher training for pilots and aircraft fuelers as requested. In the spring of 2004, the unit was presented with the FAA Good Friend Award for instructing FAA employees on how to use a defibrillator and perform CPR.

With 16 highly trained fire personnel and superior firefighting equipment, GFIA’s fire department maintains aircraft rescue and firefighting capability that exceeds the federal requirements for an airport this size. The ARFF unit is housed in a 22,000-square-foot facility located just east of the airport passenger terminal building. The unit operates three firefighting vehicles, each carrying 1,500-2,500 gallons of water and 200-400 gallons of fire-extinguishing foam. They also have a rescue vehicle that carries additional emergency supplies and an inflatable temporary command center.

Every day the ARFF unit spends time inspecting and performing maintenance checks on their trucks and other equipment – ensuring that everything is in top working condition in case of an emergency.

All members of the ARFF unit are certified Level II firefighters by the Michigan Fire Fighting Training Council (MFFTC). They are licensed by the State of Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) as Emergency Medical Technicians. All firefighters have earned, or are in the process of earning, the Certified Firefighter designation from the American Association of Airport Executives.

In order to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements, ARFF personnel spend several hours each day training. This intense training consists of a combination of classroom sessions, computer-aided training, videos, and hands-on instruction. Once each year they travel to Chicago for live fire training. Chicago's high-tech, computer-controlled simulator allows the firefighters to fight an aircraft fire in a realistic environment.

The GFIA Fire Fighting unit is an active participant in the airport’s emergency preparedness planning. Each year, the ARFF staff participates in a tabletop emergency exercise; and once every three years the airport conducts a full-scale disaster exercise. During the full-scale exercise, volunteers role play victims of an aircraft disaster and are assigned a variety of conditions and injuries. Both the tabletop exercise and the full-scale exercise include the airport’s mutual aid providers (police, fire, and emergency medical services) from surrounding communities.

Through consistent planning, training, and coordination with other mutual aid agencies, Gerald R. International Airport remains prepared for emergencies and maximizes safety for our customers.

In addition to providing services for airport tenants and users, ARFF also spends time with the community.

  • They offer tours of their facility to a variety of groups and schools including a general overview of the career of firefighting.
  • Many years you can spot one of their fire rescue trucks in the Jaycees Santa Claus Parade in downtown Grand Rapids.
  • They participate in National Fire Prevention Week each October by having staffed information tables in the Grand Hall of the passenger terminal building throughout the day. They have displays of some of their equipment and protective clothing, and they provide activity books for kids of all ages.
  • They are an official drop-off site for the U.S. Marine Corps. Toys for Tots Campaign.
  • They also provide mutual aid support to surrounding municipalities whenever a request is made for the special firefighting capabilities that can be provided by GFIA’s ARFF vehicles.
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