What Happens When an Aircraft Catches Fire?

How do you fight
a fire when it’s in motion? The challenges faced by
Air Force firefighters are unlike any other job in the world. Their response times must be instantaneous and the challenges, whether spatial, chemical, or kinetic, are numerous. The only thing all aircraft
fires have in common is their immense stakes. That’s why firefighters
prepare with top-level training at Duty Fire Academy. – It’s a science: how you manage it, how you put it out, how you control it. The Air Force’s unique challenges make its firefighters some of
the very best in the world, ready for any situation. – It’s not just pulling up on scene and putting water on the fire. Firefighters must contend with high-intensity scenarios, pressurized systems, immensely powerful machines and hazardous substances not found in civilian society. – We have a burning, flammable liquid an aircraft spills fuel on the ramp due to a crash… In addition,
these fires burn incredibly hot such as temperatures between
427 and 816 degrees celsius. – In order to put that
out you need to cool it. And you need to keep the
heat separated from the fuel. Foam is one way of doing that. Foam flows on top of the fuel. It smothers the oxygen away from the fire, puts the fire out. As technology keeps evolving, so too do the potential
problems when it goes wrong. Coordination is key, from inspection to
prevention to suppression. When a call comes in,
firefighters have to be dressed to go in under one minute and arrive in two minutes. After that, they have one more minute to reduce the fire by 90%. If temperatures reach 649 degrees celsius, the plane is done for. Although the extinguishing materials vary by the fire’s causes, Air Force firefighters must
prepare for every combustion, from jet fuel to live weapons,
to metal itself burning. If airborne, firefighters
have to be careful to preserve the integrity
of the plane hull with high-pressure extinguishing methods, so as not to give the fire
a path into the cabin. – The fire on aircrafts
spreads very quickly. It’ll start one end
and spread very quickly to the other end. In order to be
as effective as possible, firefighters also have
to memorize the layouts of different model aircrafts,
which can vary greatly. – Where it may be as
little as a couple of feet in length all the way up to an aircraft that may be 300 feet long and is loaded with thousands of gallons of fuel. Air Force firefighters are called upon to help far beyond the air field. Their special skills are used to combat [everything] from natural disasters such as wildfires to commercial airlines. – The Fire Academy was very intense, a very grueling process. We do have a lot of responsibility for responding to whatever may happen. But it’s a very rewarding career and I’m proud to be part of the
Air Force and a firefighter. This episode was presented by the US Air Force. Learn more at For more episodes of
Science in the Extremes check out this one right here. Don’t forget to subscribe, and come back to Seeker for more episodes.

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