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Fire on board

 

Ground Services

In the event of a fire of board it will be neccesary to have the gruond services standing by when landing or to come to the aircraft immediately if the fire starts with the aircraft on the ground.

In this context the ground services that we will need most urgently will be the firecrew and the ambulance/paramedic services.

In incidents with fire it is usual for the commander of the fire services to be in direct radio contact with the pilots in order to co-ordinate the firefighting operation.

Ground Service Vehicles

This is a slideshow of other vehicles that you will encounter at the airport or in your exam!

Aircraft Interior

Modern aircraft interiors are designed to increase passenger comfort and to offer a feeling of spaciousness in an otherwise claustrophobic environment, however, comfort is not the only challenge for the modern aircraft interior designer.  Regulations stipulate that seats and other fixtures must be made from materials that can resist fire for a sustained period and must also not release toxic fumes when it begins to smoke.  It is believed that these measures have improved survivability during aircraft accidents involving fire.

The passenger cabin is also protected by several layers of non-flamable material that is between the cargo area below the cabin and the cabin itself.

Smoke

It is important that cabincrew members are aware of indications of smoke, report them  to the flightcrew members.  All crew members must take reports of smoke in the cabin seriously. They must immediately identify the source of the smoke, and take the appropriate actions in order to significantly minimize the risk of fire onboard the aircraft.
It is wise to treat a smoke occurrence as a fire, until it has been proven otherwise.  The cabincrew members must remember that the development of an odor, or smoke,  takes some time before it can be detected.

The following are the areas where the cabin crewmembers can easily detect the source of smoke:

  • Galley equipment (ovens, coffeemakers) represented the most common source of smoke
  • Cabin equipment (e.g. a seat screen or seat control malfunction) 
  • Lavatories. 

The following are areas where it is difficult for the cabin crewmembers to detect the source of smoke:

  • Air conditioning 
  • Sidewall panels 
  • Ceiling panels.

Smoke coming from the above areas may be because of:

  • The Auxiliary Power Unit (APU)
  • Cabin recirculation fans
  • Cargo compartments 
  • Crew Rest Compartments 
  • Electrical wiring 
  • Engine Air Bleed (e.g. Bird ingestion, …).

Asphyxia

Asphyxia or asphyxiation is a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from abnormal breathing. An example of asphyxia is smoke inhalation.  Asphyxia causes generalized hypoxia, which affects primarily the tissues and organs. There are many circumstances that can induce asphyxia, all of which are characterized by an inability of an individual to acquire sufficient oxygen through breathing for an extended period of time. Asphyxia can cause coma or death.

Smoke inhalation injury refers to injury due to inhalation or exposure to hot gaseous products of combustion. This can cause serious respiratory complications.  It is estimated that 50–80% of fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation injuries, including burns to the respiratory system. The hot smoke injures or kills by a combination of thermal damage, poisoning and pulmonary irritation and swelling, caused by carbon monoxide, cyanide and other combustion products.

Smells

The following abnormal odors may indicate the presence of smoke:

  • Acrid odor: Electrical equipment, engine oil leak
  • Burning: Electrical or galley equipment, bird ingestion 
  • Chemical odor: Contaminated bleed cuts, Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) fluid ingestion
  • Chlorine: Smoke hood, blocked door area drain 
  • Electrical odor: Electrical equipment 
  • Fuel odor: APU, Flush Control Unit (FCU)/Fuel line Oil: Engine or APU oil leak
  • Sulphur odor: Wiring, avionics filter water contamination, light bulb.

Oxygen Masks

The difference between pilot and passenger oxygen masks

The difference between pilot and passenger oxygen masks

The masks used in the cockpit are different to the masks used by passengers. The passenger masks are designed to provide a limited amount of supplementary oxygen, which is mixed with cabin air, in order to sustain life during an emergency descent.  This is the only application for the use of oxygen by passengers, during a time when cabin pressure has been reduced and oxygen is an immediate lifesaving requirement, it’s provided on an emergency-only basis, for a short period of time.

In the cockpit, the mask completely seals.  It prevents any vapors, fumes, smoke, or other dangerous aerosols from entering the mask when we breathe.  We have several settings on these masks, one of which does the same as the passenger masks, it dilutes the oxygen intake with cabin air in order to prolong the duration of the available oxygen.

In general, dropping the passengers oxygen masks will not aid the passenger in any way, as the oxygen that comes through the mask will be mixed with cabin air and the same toxic fumes will be present in the oxygen that they are made to breathe.

Warning Lights and Automatic Fire Detection Systems

Automatic systems can detect aircraft fires or potential ignition which might not be apparent to the crew until they have developed to an extent which makes their successful control difficult, or impossible. These systems are based upon both heat and smoke sensing.

Heat sensing is used for cargo holds, engines/APUs, toilet waste bins, high temperature bleed air leaks and landing gear bays. Smoke detection is used in toilet compartments, avionics bays and cargo holds. Normally, Alerts or Cautions are activated locally for toilet smoke detectors (for cabin crew investigation) though in some types a toilet detector can trigger a FIRE warning on the flight deck. All other fire and smoke detector Alerts and Cautions are normally annunciated in the flight deck. In every case, it is important that crewmembers understand exactly what type of detection system is being used in which location in their aircraft and exactly what is being detected. Only with that understanding will they be able to know exactly what any warning system is telling them.

Fire Fighting Equipment

Halon Fire Extinguisher

The use of halon fire extinguishers has generated some controversy. Some crewmembers have been hesitant to use halon during in-flight fires. The use of halon fire extinguishers is addressed in the FAA Advisory Circular 120-80, and stresses the effectiveness of Halon, when fighting an in-flight fire. A halon extinguisher is three times as effective as CO2 extinguishers that contain the same amount of extinguishing agent. Because of its chemical composition, some precautions must be taken when using Halon fire extinguishers:

  • When a Halon fire extinguisher has been used on a Class A fire, the fire and the surrounding area must be cooled down with a non-alcoholic liquid.
  • When halon is used in crew compartments or confined areas, Portable Breathing Equipment (PBE) should be used

Portable Breathing Equipment

Portable Breathing Equipment (PBE) is designed to protect the cabin crew from
smoke, toxic fumes and gases. The cabin crew can still communicate amongst
themselves, and with the flight crew via the Passenger Address (PA).

Crash Axe

can be used to lever panels, to enable cabin crew to insert the nozzle of the fire extinguisher behind a panel. The crash axe may also be used for moving burning material for example, burnt wiring. The crash axe has an insulated handle and is resistant to high voltages.

Fire Gloves

Fire gloves are fire retardant. These gloves give protection to hands and arms against
heat.

Use of Non Standard Emergency Equipment
Cabin crew need to be resourceful when fighting an inflight fire. Be prepared to
improvise by using other equipment such as, using pots of coffee/tea, to fight a visible
fire for example, a waste bin fire.

Extinguishers

Within the cabin the FAA recommends and/or requires Halon fire extinguishers on aircraft.  H3Rs Halon fire extinguishers are the extinguishers of choice in the aviation industry.  They cause no mess or damage, and do not require taking a plane out of service for clean-up; a costly process for the aircraft owner.  The heat-seeking quality of the Halon gas makes it a superior fire fighting agent.

Cargo Hold Fire Extinguishing Systems

Hold fire extinguishing systems are usually activated as a flight crew response to abnormal heat detection in an aircraft hold, and usually operate in a dual function. Part of the available fire suppression capability is deployed in an ‘instant’, or ‘knock-down’, discharge of extinguishing agent and the remainder is deployed more gradually over a longer period of up to an hour, to assist in preventing re-ignition or at least providing partial fire suppression, to provide more time to get an aircraft with a continuing hold fire warning back on the ground. Various alternatives to Halon 1301 have been examined including water misting, inert gas and dry powder, either alone or in combination. The FAA has developed minimum performance standards for these systems and it has been demonstrated that although water misting alone is unable to pass the exploding aerosol can fire test, a combination of water misting and inert gas (nitrogen) discharge may be more effective. However, for such a solution to be viable, a means of on-board nitrogen generation will be needed.

Engine Fire Bottles

Fire Bottles in engine compartments are usually electrically operated after manual selection by the flight crew based upon automatic fire detection. In the airborne case, APU fire bottles are similarly activated but it is usual for automatic APU fire detection during ground operation to trigger automatic shutdown and fire extinguisher activation. Until recently, the most common extinguishing agent was Halon 1301 for all Engines/APUs fitted to civil transport aircraft. However, Halon 1301 is not longer manufactured and has been banned (for new systems) since 1994; often they are now replaced by HFCs (Hydrofluorocompounds).

Toilet Waste Bins

 

Toilet waste bin fire extinguishers are activated automatically if heat detectors in the vicinity are activated. Toilet Smoke detector activation does not trigger waste bin fire extinguishers. Alternative extinguishing agents to Halon 1301 have been approved for use in fixed toilet waste bin systems and have also been, uniquely in terms of the search for Halon alternatives, shown to be more effective than Halon 1301 units whilst being the same size. Since only a documentation change is required to fit these alternative extinguishers, they have been used for retrofit as well as in new-build aircraft.

Injuries

The majority of injuries that result from a fire on board whilst on the ground are caused by breathing the smoke from the fire and of course, burns from the fire itself.  A fire on board is a situation that can cause a lot of panic within the cabin and it is also common for passengers to become injured in the panic to leave the aircraft.  In the worst case, a passenger might be pulled to the ground and have other passengers stepping on him and this can cause broken/fractured bones, concussions or other serious injuries.  It is also not uncommon for passengers being injured when using the escape slide.

Burns

A burn is a type of injury to flesh or skin caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, friction, or radiation.  Burns that affect only the superficial skin are known as superficial or first-degree burns.  When damage penetrates into some of the underlying layers, it is a partial-thickness or second-degree burn. In a full-thickness or third-degree burn, the injury extends to all layers of the skin. A fourth-degree burn additionally involves injury to deeper tissues, such as muscle or bone.

The treatment required depends on the severity of the burn.  Superficial burns may be managed with little more than simple pain relievers, while major burns may require prolonged treatment in specialized burn centers.  Cooling with tap water may help relieve pain and decrease damage; however, prolonged exposure may result in low body temperature. Partial-thickness burns may require cleaning with soap and water, followed by dressings.  It is not clear how to manage blisters, but it is probably reasonable to leave them intact. Full-thickness burns usually require surgical treatments, such as skin grafting. Extensive burns often require large amounts of intravenous fluid, because the subsequent inflammatory response causes significant capillary fluid leakage and edema. The most common complications of burns involve infection.

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