MIAMI (CBS4) – Five, big Miami-Dade foam pumper trucks gushed thousands of gallons of fire retardant chemical on an imaginary burning airliner Monday afternoon in a training area in the middle of the airport.  Television news crews, invited to witness the event, rolled as the trucks pressed closer and closer to the “burning aircraft” applying the flame smothering foam.

The demonstration comes after the crash and ensuing fire onboard the Asiana Airlines 777 that fell short of the runway in San Francisco on Saturday, killing two passengers.

At MIA the “play pretend” drill Monday was taken seriously as a plane crash, first responders fully aware of the urgency they might face.

“It’s tremendous, because we’re talking about saving lives and protecting property,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Capt. Pat Lewis.

The fire retardant foam starts flowing even before the trucks stop rolling.

“It’s called pump and roll,” said Lewis.  “The foam actually discharges while the truck is moving.”

One of the trucks has a spear-like device on a front-mounted boom.  It is able to pierce the skin of an aircraft and pump the firefighting chemical inside the fuselage.

Hardly a day goes by that the men and women of the airport station don’t roll on one or more potential airline emergencies.  Almost always it involves a cockpit warning light that has illuminated in error.

“Luckily, a lot of these alerts are false alarms but we are at the ready at all times to respond to a real emergency,” said Lt. Arnold Piedrahita.

The drivers of the fire trucks hurry, but are vigilant not to hit another vehicle or taxiing aircraft or – as apparently was the case in the San Francisco crash – run over someone who has escaped the airplane.

“Our heads are swivels,” said Firefighter Rick Amat, the wheel man on one of the foam trucks.  “We train for that.  You may drive fast to get to an area, but when you arrive you have to be careful where you’re going.”

In an August, 2006, incident a U.S. Airways jetliner blew two tires on landing at MIA.  The burning landing gear was extinguished, and the passengers safely evacuated. In that case, the fire commander on scene ordered the flight crew to stop the evacuation of passengers from the plane, because it was interfering with efforts to put out the fire.  In some scenarios, putting out the fire first is more important that getting people off the aircraft – can, in fact, be the primary lifesaver.

In their training, the MIA firefighters work to meet an F.A.A. mandated standard of reaching any spot on the airport within three minutes of receiving a call.  The airport is nearly three miles long.


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