Two massive new fire engines are now ready to rumble at the Terrace Regional Airport, cleared for service and geared up with incredible capabilities for battling a jet-fuelled fire.
The fire trucks have been in Terrace since May 2016, but it has taken the last eight months to get certification for the trucks to be cleared for use, explained airport manager Carman Hendry.
But now both are cleared for operation, and the yellow truck rented from the Prince George airport will be returned as soon as the weather warms up, he said.
The immense new fire engines are built like army tanks on military frames, and are loaded with 1,700 gallons of water, roughly the amount held by 34 standard bathtubs (30 by 60 inches).
Speaking of the impressive size of the trucks, airport emergency support official Peter Martinson said airport fire trucks were credited with saving two neighbourhoods in the Fort McMurray wildfire last spring.
The fire trucks are equipped with two turrets to shoot water, having the capacity to fire more than 1,500 gallons per minute.
“If, heaven forbid, an aircraft did go down, we’re dealing with large quantities of fuel, and you have to put it out right away,” said Martinson, adding that they’d be unlikely to shoot off the water that quickly, as they’d want to conserve and use it strategically.
For that, infrared cameras are built into the truck to help them see clearly in the dark and pick out people and hot areas.
In the midst of an explosive, diesel-fuelled fire, the aim is to create a fire-free route for passengers, known as a fire-free egress, Martinson said.
An airplane crash often involves pools of burning fuel on the ground, since jet fuel is stored in a plane’s wings, so in addition to the water, firetrucks are also loaded with 250 gallons of foam and 550 pounds of dry chemical similar to what is found in fire extinguishers.
They utilize foam to create a fire-stifling blanket to cover pools of burning fuel and open a route of escape for passengers. Martinson said that since an aircraft hull is thin, a fully involved fire can burn through it in as little as 90 seconds.
“That’s why we have to get out there fast,” said Martinson. “That’s why this truck is built to respond fast.”
The fire trucks have an ignition button on the outside door, so the truck can fire up while staff pull on their boots and gear and climb aboard.
“We have three minutes according to Transport Canada regulations,” Martinson said. “Three minutes to get in the truck, open the doors, and make it to the centre part of the farthest runway we have.”
While rushing to the site of a crash, trucks have a built-in warning system to warn drivers if they’re taking corners too sharply and the truck is at risk of tipping over. Trucks have tipped over at other airports, thrown off balance because of the top-heavy weight of the large water tanks, Martinson said.
He says airport staff have been training since last summer on a similar truck, and have been getting familiar with the new ones in the last month.
They have 10 people ready to respond to emergencies, with most already fully certified.
Hendry added that while the airport now has its own emergency response, local fire departments will still be dispatched in the event of a crash or fire.
The $1.74 million cost of the trucks, as well as the construction of the new shop, has been covered by Transport Canada, but the airport is footing ongoing costs for training and maintenance.
That means outgoing flights cost an extra $1.89, Hendry said, a number adjusted every six months.
The upgrade in emergency response was required by Transport Canada because the airport has climbed to a category five airport.
That’s due to the growing number of passengers and flights going through the Terrace airport, and Hendry says they expect to climb to a six by summer. The new fire trucks are enough to cover them up to a category seven, he added.
It’s taken over a year and a half to get all the certification and equipment, and Hendry says he is relieved to have it done.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s a sigh of relief that its all finished and we are now able to put them into service. The older truck, even though it was dependable, it was getting older. These new trucks are much more reliable.”