An airport fire involving ground support equipment (GSE) can have an immediate impact on the airline and airport operations. A fire can leave equipment nonoperational, take an airplane out of service, and may endanger ground crew, flight crew, and passengers. If a fire does occur in a piece of GSE, an operator or ground support crew has a couple of options. They can try to extinguish the fire with a handheld or wheeled fire extinguisher, and/or contact the aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) team.
If they choose to try and extinguish the fire, the operator or ground crew must remember a few key steps, including executing all shutdown procedures of the equipment. If the equipment keeps running, it has a higher likelihood of reigniting the fire. Following the equipment shut down, they need to secure the portable fire extinguisher, identify the location of the fire, open any compartments needed to access the fire, and discharge the fire extinguisher.
If the operator or ground crew contacts ARFF and stands by, in the time it takes for first responders to get on-site, the fire could grow and cause severe damage to equipment or aircraft. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) reported on a fire incident involving a belt loader at Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Quebec where it took 5 minutes, 13 seconds between eruption of the fire and the fire being put out. In this time, ground crew members also tried to extinguish the fire but ran into a complication with one of the wheeled fire extinguishers. Because of the location of the fire, the cabin filled with smoke leading to the evacuation of passengers, some of which incurred injures and taken to the hospital. In all, fourteen firefighters and four officers in six fire trucks, including the mobile command post responded to the fire.
A third option is available for fire protection of GSE with automatic fire suppression systems. These systems detect and suppress fires immediately at the source without human involvement and do not require electricity. There is no risk of failure due to a power outage and provides protection 24/7. The system incorporates fire detection tubing in and around the area that is prone to fire. When a fire starts, the section of tubing closest to the point of origin ruptures forming a spray nozzle which releases the fire suppression agent extinguishing the fire. Additionally, the systems are available with an optional pressure switch to shut off the equipment or vehicle in the event of a fire.
With an automatic fire suppression system installed, it provides fire detection and suppression before the fire has a chance to grow to cause catastrophic equipment damage or injury to individuals.