Citations include failure to properly equip and train crew
By Melvin Claxton and Charles Hurt / The Detroit News
Detroit city officials have repeatedly violated federal airline safety requirements by failing to maintain City Airports fire trucks and properly train and outfit the firefighters there.
In the past three years, Federal Aviation Administration inspectors have cited City Airport which handles about 335 takeoffs and landings each day with six violations because of problems at its fire station.
In addition, a Detroit News investigation found problems federal regulators arent required to look for, or havent noticed.
When airport trucks are taken out of service even for a short period of time back-ups are required for the airport to remain open.
But the citys back-up rigs, three regular pumpers stationed in firehouses near the airport, dont operate like the far more sophisticated airport fire trucks.
They cant pump while moving and are not designed to operate in the intense heat of jet fuel fires. These are standard features of an airport fire truck, which allow it to chase flaming planes down a runway while spraying foam. Whats more, the trucks that provide backup for the airport fire rigs carry a fire-extinguishing foam not approved for airport use by the FAA. In fact, the foam used to smother car and fuel tanker fires actually can counteract the one used at airports.
Even the foams manufacturer, Hazardous Control Technology of Georgia, warns against mixing the two.
I dont know of any fire department that would mix these foams, said Rick Morley, the companys regional sales manager. Firefighters at the airports primary back-up station, Engine 46 at Grace and Knodell, have even written a warning on their five-gallon buckets not to mix the two foams.
The News also found that the airport regularly ignores FAA recommendations on the amount of foam it should have in the station.
The FAA suggests keeping enough of the extinguishing agent on hand to fill City Airports main fire truck at least twice. But as recently as Sept. 12, the airports fire company had less than 75 percent of that amount.
Firefighters who work at the airport say it is difficult to get the fire department to deliver extra foam. Sometimes it takes special circumstances for the department to do so.
That was the case in late June.
Firefighters had been asking department officials for extra foam for three weeks because supplies were so low. But they said they got no response.
Then, shortly after midnight June 21, airport records show, Secret Service agents notified City Airport firefighters to expect First Lady Hillary Rodham Clintons arrival the next day on a Lear jet. She would be in town for a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser for her New York Senate campaign.
The airport fire truck went on special alert. And later that day, fire department records show, workers from the repair shop showed up with the 150 gallons of foam that firefighters had been unsuccessfully requesting for weeks.
In 1997, 1998 and as recently as Aug. 1, the FAA cited City Airport for ignoring its mandates for annual training exercises in which firefighters put out fires and simulate aircraft rescues.
These exercises are critical for a firefighter to be certified by the FAA for airport work. They also ensure that firefighters can handle an aircraft crash or other airport emergencies.
Agency officials also found the protective suits worn by airport firefighters so old and frayed that they demanded the suits be replaced.
But even after the August citations, city officials have continued to staff the firehouse with firefighters who dont meet FAA requirements, according to fire department records.
As recently as Aug. 15, interim airport director Terry Hopkin wrote to the federal agency, promising to replace a firefighter at the airport who wasnt FAA certified.
Over the past three years, the FAA has also cited the airport for not testing its fire trucks annually to ensure they can spray the dry chemicals used to battle jet fuel fires.