Here’s your chance to check out some of the coolest trucks in the fire department’s fleet.
Capital City Fire/Rescue is holding an open house Saturday of their partially remodeled Glacier Valley Fire Station.
They’re also serving up barbecue and offering free rides on the big vehicles, commonly known as airport crash trucks.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is part of the City and Borough of Juneau Parks & Recreation Department’s Day of Play.
Earlier this week, Firefighter Craig Brown of Capital City Fire/Rescue took me on a ride around Juneau International Airport in one of the vehicles called an airport rescue firefighting, or ARFF, truck.
Brown brakes to a stop, looks both ways, then drives onto the airport tarmac and the main taxiway.
He can do that as long as he notifies the airport’s control tower and avoids other traffic.
“It can be really busy along Coastal (Helicopters) here,” Brown said. “You need to stop and wait.”
Brown carefully yields to taxiing planes and landing helicopters.
This new ARFF vehicle is massive.
It’s 35 feet long with six-wheel drive and 4-foot diameter tires. Think of an armored personnel carrier from your favorite sci-fi or war movie, paint it yellow, and you’ve got a good idea of what an ARFF truck looks like.
Inside the truck’s cab, Brown faces panels of lights and buttons, and works a pair of joysticks. They control nozzles on the front of the truck that spray water, foam or dry chemical on a fire.
“Our main focus will be, if we do roll up to an aircraft fire, is to protect egress for people to get out of the aircraft,” Brown said. “We’ll be able to protect it with one nozzle and maybe fight the fire with the other nozzle. That can be pretty handy instead of just having one. You can try to just get the fire out faster with two.”
ARFF trucks get called out several times a year for all types of incidents at the airport.
It doesn’t have to be a crash. It could be two aircraft touching on the ramp or a small plane on approach with a flat tire or landing gear that will not fully extend.
“An amphib beaver, coming in. They had the rear tires down. But the front tires wouldn’t come down,” Brown recalled one recent incident. “They had to land on the runway and basically come to a slide on the floats. That particular scene, there was nothing we could do. We just kind of stood by. We helped the people out of the aircraft, the passengers. From there, the airfield maintenance kind of helped them get the aircraft off the runway.”
In extraordinary circumstances, like the 1996 Valley Lumber fire, an ARFF truck may assist in fighting a large fire away from the airport.
“You can only do that as long as you have enough vehicles here for the airport,” I begin to ask.
“Yes,” Brown answered. “You still got to cover the airport. Yep.”
Brown takes me on a little ride around the airport to see a new shed under construction, to the floatplane pond, and to see another ARFF added to the Glacier Valley Fire Station adjacent to the airport.
This ARFF, painted red and still showing markings of the Prudhoe Bay Fire Department at the Deadhorse Airport, was donated by BP Exploration this year.
It’s 25 years old, largely unused, and it can carry 3000 gallons of water, twice the capacity of a similar ARFF already in service at the station and triple the capacity of a typical fire truck.
Firefighters love capacity. The more capacity a truck has, the longer it can stay on scene fighting a fire.
“It’s our first-out here,” Brown says of the new truck we’re riding, meaning that it’s the first vehicle dispatched to an incident at the airport.
“Could you use it while it was in storage?” I ask as the vehicle’s siren suddenly starts up, interrupting me.
“Sorry, that was me,” I said.
Yep, I accidentally stepped on the foot pedal to activate the ARFF’s siren. Every kid wants to do that, right?
Capital City Fire/Rescue officials say increased traffic and bigger planes landing at Juneau International Airport required getting bigger trucks with more capacity.
In turn, that required remodeling the ARFF vehicle bay at Glacier Valley Fire Station to accommodate the larger vehicles.
The station remodeling cost $2.6 million and the brand-new ARFF acquired last year cost $740,000.
Capital City Fire/Rescue officials say grants from the Federal Aviation Administration covered most of the costs for the station remodeling and the new truck.
The station remodeling will be completed in September, when the exhaust system is finished in the ARFF vehicle bay. That’s why most of the vehicles are currently parked outside.
The two recently acquired vehicles, along with two already in service, make four total at the station. One of the older vehicles (A-2 in the picture below) may eventually be surplussed, or donated to another fire department in need.
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