ARFF. It’s not the sound of a barking dog, but rather it’s Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting. The term is well known in aviation, and especially the airport world.
Formerly known as CFR (Crash Fire Rescue), Wittman Airport’s response to aircraft emergencies has a long history dating back to 1975, when the fire station was constructed. At that time, North Central Airlines was serving KOSH with Convair 580 turboprops, and Federal Aviation Regulation Part 139, the controlling document for all US commercial service airports, dictated that a specified number of vehicles and amount of extinguishing agent (depending on the length of the aircraft operating) be available on the airport for aircraft emergency response. Then, as now, there was a specific timed response from the fire station to the midpoint of the furthest runway served by commercial aircraft.
In order to fill the needs of the county-owned airport and the City of Oshkosh, which was looking for another station location to serve the southern portion of the city, Winnebago County constructed the fire station, purchased several specialized aircraft fire fighting vehicles, and further entered into an agreement with the city to provide manpower and a city-owned structural fire-fighting vehicle of its own for city responses.
The smaller of the vehicles, known as the Rapid Intervention Vehicle (RIV), is considered the command vehicle and is generally the first to arrive on the incident scene and apply extinguishing agent if needed. Over the years, several vehicles, mainly heavy-duty pickup trucks with a skid-mounted fire extinguishing agent package on the truck bed, have served in that capacity, Today, ARFF 114 is a purpose-built Ford F550 chassis with 500 gallons of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) and 100 pounds of Purple K dry chemical extinguishing agent. ARFF 114 came to Wittman Airport in 2014 after being retired from service at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
Commercial airline service no longer exists at Wittman Regional Airport, but in order to meet FAR Part 139 requirements for the size of aircraft that are used for charter flights during EAA AirVenture, and also to meet the needs of airport coverage during AirVenture, two 1500-gallon ARFF vehicles round out the fleet at Wittman.
ARFF 214 is a 1986 Oshkosh® T-1500, which, like ARFF 114, was purchased from a Texas-based ARFF equipment refurbisher. Ironically, it first served at Outagamie County Regional Airport in Appleton prior to its first retirement.
ARFF 314, the youngster of the fleet, is a 2009 Oshkosh® Striker 1500. It can discharge 1,500 gallons of AFFF in 90 seconds. So far so good...it has never had to, but it’s ready to do so if called upon.
The daily routine at the station is anything but dull. Obviously some days are busier than others, especially during EAA AirVenture, but the nine firefighters (three on each of three 24-hour shifts) are also responding to calls within the city, training, cleaning the station and the apparatus, training, inspecting, taking airport familiarization drives, training, and even taking a break when able. Did we mention they train occasionally? Being proficient on the city ladder truck based at the station, along with the ARFF vehicles and the complexities of aircraft responses and the nature of driving on an airport are now second-nature activities for many of the crew.
On-airport responses? As the saying goes, it happens. Calls go out to deal with fuel spills, landing gear collapses, tailwheel aircraft that end up on their noses, unsafe gear indications on aircraft while in flight, groundloops, engine shutdowns in flight (thankfully on multi-engine aircraft), standby for refueling of medical flights, and yes, actual accidents.
Who are these men of valor? From the top down, Oshkosh Fire Chief Tim Franz leads the department, Battalion Chief Mark Boettcher heads up the Special Operations division of the department (under which falls the airport), and Captain Gary Olson is the station captain. To ease your mind, Captain Olson is a Private Pilot certificate holder, and is also a former Kitfox owner.
By now you’re probably wondering why the strange numbering on the ARFF vehicles. The explanation is simple. The fire station in Station 14; Quint 14 is the city-operated ladder truck based at the station. In keeping with the ͞14͟ theme, the ARFF vehicles are then consecutively numbered 114, 214 and 314. Easy, right?