Ottawa – International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President Harold A. Schaitberger said today, “the IAFF is extremely thankful that all 309 passengers and crew escaped alive from the burning wreckage of an Air France jet after Tuesday’s crash at Pearson Airport. But the accident was a best-case scenario in which a number of factors came together to make the complete evacuation possible with no loss of life.”
“This is a perfect example of a survivable crash where the flight crew were not injured and were able to conduct a quick evacuation,” added Jim Lee the IAFF’s Assistant to the General President for Canadian Operations, who also commended the professionalism of all of those who assisted with the evacuation, including the Pearson Airport fire fighters, who were on the scene in 52 seconds.
Lee commented that heavy rains at the time of the accident reduced the chance of fire to the trees and grass outside the aircraft as passengers escaped, and noted enough emergency chutes remained functional to evacuate the passengers quickly. News outlets have reported that two emergency chutes at the front of the plane failed, but that all exits remained passable.
“If there is such a thing in a real disaster, this was a best case scenario. But it reminds us that the nature of emergency response dictates that we must prepare for the worst-case scenario. And in that regard, I express our ongoing concern that the regulations governing airport fire fighting and rescue in Canada do not adequately protect passengers when things don’t fall into place as they did in this case.”
The IAFF, which represents the Pearson Airport fire fighters, has called upon the federal government for years to strengthen the Canadian Aviation Regulations. Air travelers may be surprised to learn that according to the regulations, the ability to rescue trapped passengers is not a required function of airport fire fighters, therefore the vast majority Canada’s major airports do not provide the resources necessary for the task.
International standards, such as those adopted by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) list interior cabin rescue as a specifically-resourced function of airport fire fighters.
“If your house was on fire, you’d expect fire fighters to do more than hose down the sidewalk and wait for you to rescue yourself. But in an aircraft accident, that’s the level of protection that airports are required to provide. It’s not enough, and if passengers and crew are trapped and injured, in most cases there will be no one there to rescue them as the plane burns.”
ICAO standards say that airport emergency response crews must be able to reach all points on all operational runways in two minutes, while the Canadian Aviation Regulations only require them to be able to reach the midpoint of the furthest runway in 3 minutes, when temperatures inside a burning aircraft can reach a lethal 1,800 F, and that three-minute benchmark is only under ideal surface and visibility conditions.
Additionally, a proposed regulation called CAR 308 that would have restored an on-site fire fighting presence at about 25 medium-sized airports in Canada was supposed to have been enacted in June 2004, but its implementation was delayed by Transport Canada last year after airports expressed concerns about the cost of providing on-site fire protection. The proposed regulation was finally cancelled altogether by Transport Canada earlier this summer.
“Canada’s airport fire fighting and rescue regulations need to be brought up to international standards in terms of rescue and response times. The next time there’s an accident at an airport, we may not be so lucky that the crew survives uninjured and are able to execute an emergency evacuation.”