New era in aviation firefighting

Air Force’s No. 23 Squadron Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting personnel apply fluorine-free foam to extinguish a large demonstration aviation fuel blaze. Photo: Sergeant Andrew Eddie

New era in aviation firefighting

Firefighters from No. 23 Squadron based at RAAF Base Amberley have demonstrated their ability to extinguish a fire using fluorine-free foam (F3) in a landmark training activity.

Air Force is required to maintain its firefighting capability to support the ADF in its mission to defend Australia and its national interests, and the purpose of this activity held in late August was to demonstrate the effectiveness of Defence Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) vehicles and F3.

Air Force firefighting is constantly evolving.

In line with this, Defence recognised the requirement to transition its fleet of firefighting vehicles from using PFAS-based aqueous film-forming foam to fluorine-free foam. 

The Department of Defence’s Estate & Infrastructure Group (E&IG) drove the project.

Tom Calthorpe is the Acting Director of E&IG’s Environment and Heritage Policy Development.

“E&IG led a nationwide program to remove the old PFAS-containing foam from every ARFF truck in the Army, Air Force and contract fleets,” Mr Calthorpe said.

“The new foam was a drop-in replacement and its suitability was thoroughly assessed by E&IG against environmental and performance-based requirements prior to the transition taking place.”

One element of meeting these requirements called for a live demonstration – and the team from No. 23 Squadron was up to the challenge. 

It was undertaken at the dedicated firefighting training facility at RAAF Base Amberley and required the ignition of a large, contained fuel fire.

Using both the Rosenbauer Panther and the Oshkosh Striker fire trucks in a combined ‘pump and roll’ approach, the fire was extinguished within a few minutes.

Following strict environmental and safety protocols, the activity met its remit: an aviation fuel fire put out in the minimum time with maximum effectiveness demonstrating the suitability of F3 and preparedness of No. 23 Squadron’s firefighting capability.

Warrant Officer Owen Johnson, one of Air Force’s veteran firefighters, said he was impressed by the way No. 23 Squadron teams handled the fire.

“Training of this nature provides an opportunity for firefighters to confirm essential skills and gain confidence in their equipment and vehicle function with the application of F3 foam,” Warrant Officer Johnson said. 

“They successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of the new foam and their skills in a very real environment.”

The lessons learnt from the event will prove invaluable in the development of Air Force firefighting capability into the future. 

More photographs can be viewed on the Defence image gallery.

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