Featured image: An ARFF truck practicing on a piece of airplane. - Read full post: Fire on the Airfield!

Fire on the Airfield!


Welcome to Season 2 of The Flight Deck! From now on we’ll be presenting podcast episodes in themed seasons, letting us explore stories from aerospace in entirely new ways. This season is all about “Curator on the Loose!” The Museum of Flight’s hit webseries. With almost 4 million views, the show features our Senior Curator Matthew Burchette taking viewers into areas of the aviation industry they normally don’t get to explore. If you’ve seen the webseries, you probably enjoy the epic interviews Matthew’s scored with fascinating folks from across the country. But you probably don’t realize that those interviews are greatly condensed for the tv series. We’ll be sharing extended interviews, or conversations that were cut entirely for time!

Did you know that airports have their own specialized fire stations? In today’s episode, Matthew’s taking us to the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting station here on Boeing Field. Learn the connection between the fire station and the Museum, and how the firefighters prepare to respond to an incident anywhere on the field within seconds.

Full show notes after the jump.



Want to learn more about ARFFs? Check out the TV episode here ➡️ https://youtu.be/3I6_zzGFxbQ

Plan your visit to The Museum of Flight ➡️ https://museumofflight.org/ 


Episode Transcript:


SEAN MOBLEY:       The Flight Deck is made possible by listeners like you. Thank you to the donors who sustain the Museum of Flight. To support this podcast and the Museum's other educational initiatives, visit www.museumofflight.org/podcast.

Hello and welcome to The Flight Deck, the podcast of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. I'm your host, Sean Mobley, and I am so excited to be saying those words again. They're a long time coming. You might have noticed, the podcast has been on hiatus for a couple of years, but I am so glad to be back in the saddle. So thrilled to be doing this podcast again, and bringing you stories once more from the Museum of Flight.


Now with this relaunch of the podcast comes a little bit of a shift in how we're going to be doing episodes. So previously, podcast episodes have kind of bounced around between topics. They've been great episodes, great topics, but they haven't been really curated in any particular way except I've made sure that we've balanced different perspectives, different voices, and also talked about both air and space, try not to focus on one more than the other, because we are an air and space museum. But like I said, they haven't really been organized in any particular way.

Starting with this episode, we're reformatting and creating podcast seasons, just like TV shows have seasons. Now The Flight Deck is going to have seasons. And in each season, which will be made up of somewhere between five and ten episodes, we're going to be focusing on a specific theme. And all the podcast episodes in that season are going to look at that theme from different points of view, different ways of investigating the topic. So I'll use the Tuskegee Airmen, for example. In the past, we've had an episode on the Tuskegee Airmen, which were black pilots who flew aircraft for the US Military during World War II. And most of our podcast episodes are ten – 15 minutes long, which doesn't really leave a lot of time to learn about the topic besides just a very surface level understanding. A very kind of college 101, if that level of understanding about the topic. I have, in the future, an entire Tuskegee Airmen season that we're working on where we'll have a couple of different episodes that let us dive in into much more detail with different researchers, different people about what led to the Tuskegee Airmen, what impact did the Tuskegee Airmen have on the Civil Rights Movement long after World War II was finished? What were some of the lesser known stories about the Tuskegee Airmen that really don't get a lot of airtime, because normally people only get that surface level conversation.


I'm really excited about how this new format is going to let us tell stories from aerospace better than ever. And I can't wait to get started. So we're going to get started right now with season two of the podcast. Everything before this I guess is season one. But with this season, we're going behind the scenes with Curator on the Loose. Now Curator on the Loose is a web series from the Museum of Flight. A TV series where our senior curator, Matthew Burchette, takes viewers into parts of the aviation industry that they normally wouldn't get to see. We've gone to the Boeing Transonic Wind Tunnel, which is normally very off limits. We've gone along on medevac flights and even some things I can't talk about yet because the episode isn't out yet, but it was really, really cool. And in that show, Matthew Burchette interviews very interesting people, but often we have to cut those interviews down for size, or sometimes cut them out of the episode altogether, because we just didn't have space for them in the flow of the episode, which means that there's a lot of very good content that no one's ever going to get to see. So I thought this is the opportunity. Let's get these interviews, the full interviews unedited, and put them out there as this next season of the podcast. And so that's what we're doing.

Today's episode is from when we visited the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting crew here on Boeing Field, King County International Airport where the Museum of Flight is located. Now, you might know, airports have their own specialized firefighter crews. And they were very generous with us; took us all around their station, took us out in their trucks, showed us how everything works, and that's what we're going to be listening to today.


We have a couple of interviews. One that was completely cut from the episode, which talks about the connection that the Boeing Field Fire Station has with a very famous aircraft. And then another one that was very, very condensed. I think only like two minutes of the 10-minute interview ended up in the final episode, really about the operations side of the station. The interview is with Firefighter Kirk Rains, so thank you, Kirk, for being so generous with your time and so knowledgeable. And with that, let's turn it over to Matthew and Kirk for the interviews.

KIRK RAINS: So the building is dedicated to a Seattle firefighter, Luther Bonner. The reason we dedicated the building to him is that in 1943, as it kind of explains here, XB-29, experimental version of what later became the B-29, was taken off from Boeing Field here and had some problems, and ended up crashing into some sort of packing plant up in Georgetown. So his station got sent to deal with that. So that was Firefighter Bonner's first day on the job. And when they got there, him and the fire chief went to a different location than where the other firefighters were, I guess, to assess what was going on. They never returned. And when other firefighters went out to search for them, they found the fire chief unconscious outside, and when he came to he said that Firefighter Bonner was still in the building and unfortunately had perished due to toxic gases of some sort.

And then the backside of the story is that the Seattle Firefighter Association was trying to put together a list of names of where their fallen firefighters were buried at. They had him on the list, but they had no idea where he had been buried.


So a search kind of went out, and they ended up finding his grave site at one of the cemeteries where a lot of the Seattle firefighters were, but his burial site was totally separate from all the others, and had kind of been overgrown. So with that, they were able to locate that and set up his site more honorably than what it is now.

So even though he wasn't in itself our firefighter here, he is one of our only deaths that is contributed to an aircraft accident to happen.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  And what you may not know is that the same crash took the life of Eddy Allen, which he was one of the main test pilots for Boeing. And that's a name that you will hear associated with the B-29 a lot. So it actually ties this story in quite well. Wow, that's really tragic.

KIRK RAINS: His daughter at the time, who was 15 months, is still alive.


KIRK RAINS: Living over in eastern Washington. So when we did the dedication, she and other family members were able to attend.



KIRK RAINS: This is a great view. Gives us a majority view of the entire airport from here, so we can kind of see what's happening. If we get a call of any type or even we can watch aircraft ourselves coming in and take off and land, and sometimes we can even identify a problem before we even get notified by the control tower, and we can start going back down to the trucks and get ready to respond on our own if we need to.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  So what is this area actually called? Do you guys have a nickname for it? Or has it got an official name?

KIRK RAINS: We call it the cab just because it's kind of like the control center or nerve center for our particular operations.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  So it's almost like the cab of the control tower, which is actually right up there.

KIRK RAINS: Correct. Yeah.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  Everybody is in a very central location here. That's got to help out.

KIRK RAINS: Yeah, it helps out with communication and just being able to reach out to each other. And sometimes they'll come down. We do have a fitness center in the building, so we exercise on a regular basis, and they'll come down and we offer it to their use as well.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  That's awesome. So, we were talking earlier, and you were saying that you guys have to be anywhere on the airfield in like three minutes.

KIRK RAINS: Correct. So, the FAA has a requirement that we should be able to respond to – essentially, they call it the midpoint of the airfield within three minutes with the first fire truck. And we get tested on that on an annual basis by the FAA itself to make sure we can beat that requirement. In this particular case, we are at the midfield point right now, so for our abilities, we test ourselves to make sure we can get to either end of the airport within that three-minute period.


MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  How far is down to the end of the runway?

KIRK RAINS: So roughly, the airport’s about two miles long, so it’s essentially a mile in either direction.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  Okay, a mile in either direction. So, if you were to get a call now, would there be one person that stays up here to kind of direct things, or kind of get eyes on things? Or is this manned all the time?

KIRK RAINS: No. So, our minimum staffing requirements are two people on duty. We try to keep it to three at any given point. Sometimes there might be more of us here, just kind of depending, because we do have two other deputies who perform other duties as well. We have a training officer, we have a fire inspector as well, so they could be here as well in addition to the three of us that are here for response purposes. So, it kind of depends based on this call, either all of us will go or if the opportunity arises, we might assign one person to stay here to kind of help coordinate any type of resources.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  So a typical crew is only three firefighters?


KIRK RAINS: Correct.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  That seems really lean to me.

KIRK RAINS: It can be at times. So, we have a program set up. We call it Mutual Aid Program. So, we have agreements made with the South King County Fire Group called Zone Three, and depending on the type of call that we have, they will send additional resources to the airport to help out.

SPEAKER 3: If you don’t know it, the museum is literally like right over my left shoulder, so we get to see all the cool planes that come in here. And one of them is a UPS like L-1011. It’s a monster. So, say they come in and they've got an issue. Are you going to roll just your one rig, are you going to roll both your rigs, are you going to call in resources, or does it kind of depend on what you’re up against?

KIRK RAINS: Yeah. Well, it depends upon what the pilot reports to the control tower, and what the control tower tells us might be going on. So, if it’s something really, really minor, it could be just one truck and who our incident commander or equivalent to a battalion chief. If it’s something significant that affects the operation of the aircraft, then that’s something more that we’ll send more resources to just to kind of be ready. So pretty much everything we have here will go, and we’ll also let the dispatch center know that, “Hey, we need additional resources.” And so we have a mutual aid agreement that the departments from South King County Fire Group will send additional assets, fire trucks, ladders, whatever the case may be, and they’ll go to a predesignated area and kind of stage in case we need to use those. If the aircraft lands safely without any further issue, then we’ll just go ahead and cancel them so they can handle their calls and we‘ll go ahead and take care of it ourselves.


MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  This just popped into my head. Now those guys don’t have the same specialized training that you guys do though.

KIRK RAINS: Correct. Yeah. They’re what we call structure firefighters. They kind of just deal with houses or commercial buildings and things like that. We have specialized aircraft type training as well as the structure themselves. So, they kind of don’t have that. But this particular group I know are wanting to learn more about that, and we‘ve been providing them with some outside training as well to get familiar. They are responsible though for like rent an airport, and the airport down in Auburn, because those two airports don‘t have a unit like this. So, they become the primary responder. So, they do have a little bit of aircraft training, but they don‘t go to like an aircraft firefighting school or anything like that.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  Okay. So, one of the things, I’ve got to admit, I was a little bit shocked when you said you’ve only got a crew of three, but that goes back to an earlier conversation that I was having about how this airport is an index A. And that relates directly to the amount of passenger traffic?

KIRK RAINS: Correct. So, there’s five different indexes the FAA identifies an airport with. A, B, C, D, and E. SEATAC Airport, it would be an index E. It has a lot of passenger traffic going on, large volume of aircraft-type traffic. So, they’re at the highest level, which means they have to have more people on duty, they have to have more aircraft fire trucks available and things of that nature. We are an index A, which as at the lower end, because the only passenger service we have is Kenmore Air and nine people at the most for scheduled traffic, and that’s kind of what it’s based off is this amount of scheduled passenger traffic that you have. So, we’re given index A.


But as you can see, we have several large aircraft here, and we just don’t have a large passenger type aircraft system. But we have a lot of potential burning fuel, so we try to staff up a little bit.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  So let’s take a hypothetical. Let’s say Iron Maiden is flying in with Ed Force One, and their entire 747 is just jam packed with the band and all their roadies and all the hangers on that come with that band, are you guys going to still remain an A? Or are you going to get bumped up a level or two?

KIRK RAINS: So index A only requires one firefighter, one truck. So, we are already staffed up to what we call an index C level, so that’s usually where that could potentially come in play at. Boeing has a private fire department as well that’s co-located here on the airport. They also have aircraft fire trucks as well, similar to ours. So, we will reach out to them, and they kind of become our quasi-mutual joint type operational thing, and we can use them for assistance if necessary as well as they can call out to us and we can go assist them as well.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  Nice. So, I’m kind of looking around. Is most of this just communications gear in here?

KIRK RAINS: Yeah. I’ve got our computer systems here that we can keep track of what we do. These two are also sheriff’s office computers as well, so we have all the law enforcement databases that we can access here as well.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  Can you run a plate for me?


KIRK RAINS: I could, but I can’t.


KIRK RAINS: That could result to my being terminated.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  All right. Well, I don’t know. There might be a Benjamin in there for you.

KIRK RAINS: That would definitely be a termination.

MATTHEW BURCHETTE:  Well, can we go take a look at some of the other equipment that you guys are using? Because as we came in, there are two very large trucks down there that I’m really itching to like check out.

KIRK RAINS: Sure. Let’s go take a look.


(Production talk)

SPEAKER 1:  Thank you for tuning into this episode of The Flight Deck, the podcast of the Museum of Flight in Seattle Washington. If you like the audio from this episode, make sure you go check out the actual video episode of curator on the loose that this was drawn from. You can head to YouTube and you can find the show there if you just go to YouTube and search for Museum of Flight, you’ll find us there. Or you can head to the show notes for this episode, www.museumofflight.org/podcast. Click on the show notes, and I’ll have a link directly to each video right there. That way you don’t have to go searching for it.


And while you’re on YouTube, we are putting out new episodes of Curator on the Loose all the time, so make sure you subscribe to us there that way you can see the new episodes as soon as they drop. We’ve got some outstanding places that we visited that will be coming out over the next couple months.

If you like what you heard, please rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts or where you downloaded us from. You can also make a donation to the podcast at www.museumofflight.org/podcast, click the yellow donate button. You can contact the show at podcast@museumofflight.org. We’d love to hear what you think about this new format.

And until next time, this is your host, Sean Mobley, saying to everyone out there on that good earth, we’ll see you out there, folks.

Back to Blog