FAA First Responder Training

As first responders, part of the excitement of our jobs comes from the fact that we never know what the day will bring. Fortunately our days are usually routine and fairly predictable. However, there are always those unforgettable days punctuated by the completely different assignment. These assignments always challenge us because of their unfamiliarity, their sheer magnitude or the danger posed by such an event. Aircraft accidents usually fit into this category because (fortunately) they are rare. Even if the incident is minor, the media treats them as very significant news events. Although we tend to think of agencies located near airports as the most likely responders to these scenes, the reality is that any responder could find themselves as first on scene at an aircraft accident. Over the past several years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been putting together an online course for the first responder community and recently, the course was rolled out. (There is one module still under development). It should become standard training for all first responders including law enforcement, fire personnel and emergency medical service personnel.

The Federal Aviation Administration Online Course

The FAA First Responders Training can be found online at the link posted below. The training presently consists of five modules with a sixth module still being developed. The training is broken down as follows:

Module 1: Systems and Material Hazards

  • Recommended for firefighters and EMS
  • Primary module that identifies hazards unique to aircraft accidents
  • Including: Scene Approach/Access, PPE, Combustion concerns, Bio-hazards, Material Hazards, Aircraft system hazards, Aircraft safety system (ballistic parachute systems and airbags)

For those unfamiliar, the ballistic parachute is offered on some small general aviation aircraft. The system deploys a large parachute in the case of emergency. If such an aircraft was to become involved in an accident/incident it would be very prudent for rescuers to be aware of the location of such systems. In addition, many military aircraft, particularly fighter jets, also have potential hazards present in the ejection seat systems.

Module 2: Aircraft Type Familiarization and Mission Specific Hazards

  • Recommended for firefighters and EMS
  • Outlines aircraft variations in service and hazards associated with certain aircraft usage
  • Including general types of small aircraft and helicopters, commercial roles of small aircraft/helicopters and associated hazards

Module 3: Command and Recovery

  • Recommended for firefighters, EMS and law enforcement for aircraft accident protocol development.
  • Recognizes operational protocol for managing an accident scene and requirements related to the investigation of the accident
  • Including: Initial management of the scene, considerations for pending investigation and investigating authority (NTSB, FAA), scene preservation, security, witness/media considerations

Module 4: Ballistic Parachute System Familiarization

  • Recommended for firefighters and recovery personnel.
  • Provides information that will detail the installation, operation and techniques used by manufacturers to disable a Ballistic Parachute System so that the first responder will have a better understanding if tasked by the manufacturer to disable the system
  • Including: system identification/overview/operation, considerations for manufacturer disabling

Module 5: Systems and Material Hazards for Rescuers

  • Recommended for police, airport and the aviation community or others that may be tasked with initial rescue.
  • Provides material from Module 1, however recognizes that PPE may not be equivalent to firefighter/EMS SCBA and does not address extrication
  • Including: Scene Approach/Access, PPE, Combustion concerns, Bio-hazards, Material Hazards, Aircraft system hazards, Aircraft safety system (ballistic parachute systems and airbags)

Module 6: (in development) This module will address safely working around a running helicopter, including landing zone selection, hazard areas around a running helicopter, and landing zone protocol.

Additional first responder safety information from the individual manufacturers is being collected by the General Aviation Manufacturer Association. GAMA is in the process of collecting this information (typically manufacturer links) and posting it on their website (linked below). These presentations are aircraft specific and outline the particular concerns and hazards presented by the manufacturer's aircraft. Another resource to explore is military aviation facilities. They can offer specific information on the type of aircraft based at their facility and also highlight any unique hazards (i.e. ordnance etc) and the proper handle for a first responder to deal with these challenges.

Although the training is geared towards first responders it should be noted that module five is specifically for those that might be tasked with initial rescue but do not immediately have available the equipment available that responding police, fire or EMS might have. This module would be ideal training for CERT teams etc that might happen upon an accident in the immediate moments after an incident/accident.

Ideally, this online training could be supplemented with hands-on training at a local airport. If the airport has an Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Team (ARFF) they are an excellent resource for this subject area. For those smaller airports that do not have a dedicated ARFF team, usually the local fire/police agency that covers the airport has some specialized training and/or equipment that could be useful. Some larger airports and fire academies have live fire simulators that simulate a burning aircraft. Although this live burn is normally an old airline fuselage, the online training coupled with the live fire training could provide the first responder with comprehensive, practical and useful information in responding to aircraft accidents/incidents.

Although legal authority to investigate and determine the cause of an accident lies with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FAA, many agencies perform an official investigation of their own. Module three has a lot of useful information for investigators and covers such things as scene investigation and working with the FAA and NTSB.

Preparing for all emergencies is one of the many challenges faced by every agency. Fortunately aircraft accidents are very rare. However if and when they do occur, every first responder must have the knowledge, skills and abilities to safely and effectively respond to aircraft emergencies. This FAA online course goes a long way to providing this information.