Aerospace faculty give tour to airport firefighters

Connor Johnson, Staff Writer

Airport firefighters were given a tour of the University of North Dakota’s Airport Operations at Grand Forks International airport on March 21, part of an effort to improve communication between UND Aerospace and the airport.

Grand Forks International is unique among airports in the United States, as roughly 90 percent of all traffic at the airport is UND aviation related. This amount of operations means that the Airport Rescue and Fire-Fighting division, or ARFF, must be prepared to deal with any emergency students and staff at the airport operations section of the aerospace school.

Fortunately, the school has a remarkable safety record with its aircraft. Prior to 2013, the airport experienced roughly one landing a year where one of the Piper Seminoles, UND’s twin-engine trainer, landed without one of the landing wheels deployed, causing significant damage to the airplane. However, according to Chief Flight Instructor Jeremy Roesler, after revising their landing checklists, there hasn’t been an incident since 2013, although there are still a few faulty indications every year.

However, according to Roesler, while the airplanes may have faults, it’s ultimately up to the pilot, either student or instructor, to decide if they need help.

“If they need to declare an emergency,” Roesler said, “they do.”

Following a lecture for the firefighters regarding parts of the airplanes, including airbags on the seatbelts of the pilot seats and the location of fuel lines and batteries, the group was given a tour of the maintenance hangars and a few airplanes located inside.

These included one of the Seminoles, a Cessna Skyhawk (which are in the process of being phased out), one of the Sikorsky 300 trainer helicopters, and UND’s largest airplane, one of the two Beechcraft King Airs.

In UND’s fleet, the two King Airs, twin engine like the Seminoles, typically seat up to six and are the only planes that are pressurized, featuring oxygen masks in case of depressurization. The Skyhawks have fuel lines that run down the frame of the cabin, something firefighters would need to know in case they needed to cut open the airplane.

The biggest safety concern comes from the helicopters. They generally operate above the taxiways of the airport, since they don’t have wheels and don’t need a runway. However, landing in the fields surrounding the airport could make rescue and recovery difficult, according to helicopter instructor William Van Dell. During the winter, he says, it’s easier due to the frozen ground. The spring thaw, however, makes things difficult.

“In this quagmire, you couldn’t get to us with a tank,” Van Dell said. Despite his humor, recovery is a serious concern.

Another issue is that the helicopter’s rotor assembly is largely magnesium, a flammable metal, which can make extinguishing a fire difficult. Along with this, the nature of a helicopter means that rescuers have to wait for the rotor blades to stop spinning before they can reach the pilots, as the blades can reach down to just above the ground when unpowered.

While UND Aviation has a remarkable safety record, it never hurts to be prepared for the worst.

Airport Rescue and Firefighting is supervised by Chris Dietz, and is located at 2787 Airport Drive.

Connor Johnson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]