Just like a small city...
With the mission of being able to reach any part of the airport in 180 seconds or less, Hannover Airport’s fire brigade is on active alert 24 hours a day.7 Jan. 2020
2,000 missions every year
Hannover Airport hosts more than seven million passengers a year, with some 35 airlines flying nonstop from Hannover to around 75 destinations in Germany and abroad. Employing approximately 10,000 people, Hannover Airport handles arrivals and departures for tourists and businesspeople alike.
It is essentially a small city in its own right, serving Hannover (the capital city of the state of Lower Saxony) and its INTERSCHUTZ guests. The airport naturally hasits own fire brigade, which is on standby around the clock. To guarantee flight safety, it needs to be able to reach any part of the airport within 180 seconds in case of an emergency. But that’s not all…
Just like other fire brigades in numerous German cities, Hannover Airport’s fire brigade is not only responsible for firefighting and technical assistance; it also carries out a total of roughly 2,000 missions every year. The tasks for the 90-member team range from dealing with traffic accidents to stopping hydraulic oil leaks from airplanes and, of course, responding to fire alarms. Its area of operations includes one of Germany’s largest hotels as well as parking space for approximately 15,000 vehicles. The airport’s four terminals, plus its hangars, runways, taxiways and apron, are of course the main focus. And TUIfly airlines is also based at Hannover Airport.
Hannover is one of the few airports in Germany where even at night aircrafts are allowed to take off and land all year round. And what’s more, in terms of total size, Hannover Airport, with its 1,000 hectares, is one of Germany’s three biggest airports – after Frankfurt and Munich.
"We’re responsible for four main areas," explains Stefan Martens, who has headed the airport fire brigade for a good five years now. "These consist of aircraft fire protection, which is regulated according to the strict regulations of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency EASA and the international ICAO. Then there is fire protection for buildings, plus rescue services and aircraft recovery," he concludes. A big part of emergency response operations, about a third of all cases, is accounted for by airport rescue services. Whether it involves a work-related or a traffic accident, a case of illness or an emergency on a landed plane – the airport fire brigade is equipped to deal with all eventualities.
"The international civil aviation organization ICAO has placed us in the top fire protection category, which is category 10,"says Martens. "That’s the absolute highest category, which means the biggest airplanes like the Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8 are allowed to take off and land here."At the same time, says Martens, there are strict requirements for the number of emergency services that need to be available at all times, as well as for the number of fire engines and amount of fire extinguishing agents kept on site.
Five extra-large airport firefighting vehicles (GFLF), as well as an emergency staircase vehicle and a command vehicle, are the focus of the fire brigade’s vehicle fleet. In addition, there are two rescue and firefighting group vehicles (HLF), an emergency command vehicle, an aerial ladder and an ambulance, all for building fire protection.
Panther of the latest and most modern generation
There are also additional vehicles for a number of other purposes as well as reserve vehicles – including over a dozen roll-on/roll-off containers that can be transported piggyback by truck to the scene of a fire, as required.
Incidentally, four of the five "GFLFs" consist of "Panther" vehicles, of which the latest and most modern generation celebrated its premiere at INTERSCHUTZ 2015. These gigantic vehicles can accelerate from zero to 80 km/h in just 22 seconds. For the first firefighting foray, they can carry up to 12,500 liters of extinguishing water, 1,500 liters of foaming agent and 250 kilos of extinguishing powder. Three of the five firefighting behemoths need to be in a state of readiness to ensure compliance with category 10, so that airport operations can continue without restriction.
Everything needs to be functional – the equipment and, above all, the people – whether during peak operations as of 7 a.m. or in the middle of the night. Twenty firefighters are on permanent standby at the fire and rescue station, located centrally at the airport inside the runway network. As with most professional fire departments, it is a 24-hour service with eight hours of work, eight hours of standby and eight hours of rest. As befits a genuine fire and rescue station, there is also the traditional sliding pole through which the firefighters can get from the upper rooms of their building to the vehicles in a matter of seconds.
Even if there is no fire to put out and no technical assistance or emergency services are required, the airport fire brigade is always busy. After all, vehicles need to be serviced, respiratory protective equipment cleaned and checked, personal protective equipment or resources repaired and administrative tasks performed. In addition, there are lots of training sessions, with every conceivable situation routinely rehearsed. Stefan Martens is proud of his retired Transall German armed services airplane, which is used to simulate a variety of emergency scenarios.
Even outside the airport, people appreciate the power of the brigade
Thanks to high safety standards, major air traffic emergencies are rare in today’s aviation world. Smaller, so-called "local standby" incidents occasionally involve, for example, overheated brakes on a landed plane. Even rarer are "full emergency" alarms: If, for example, smoke is reported from a cockpit, then that’s an all-out emergency. Even outside the airport, people appreciate the power of the brigade.
Stefan Martens remembers the hot summers of 2018 and 2019, when one of the large airport fire trucks was called to a huge grain field fire in the neighboring Wedemark region. The fire had already spread to the adjacent forest and was threatening to spill over to several other farms. The "Panther" from the airport was on duty for four hours and pumped around 100,000 liters of water to fight the fire.
The fire brigade routinely receives visits from groups. "We have around 8,000 guests a year," reports Stefan Martens. He is proud of his team and equipment at the fire station: "It's fun working here," he says. He is also happy to pass this attitude on to the next generation – for four years now, the airport fire brigade has been training new recruits.
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