The Midland Fire Department is currently conducting a Citizens' Fire Academy for the purpose of acquainting citizens with the firefighters and the equipment they use. And having attended several of the classes I can attest that the firefighters are smart, skilled and well trained, and one doesn't have to be a gadget freak to appreciate the awesome equipment.
The station has a four person crew consisting of three drivers and a captain. When an alarm comes in, the FAA gives them 90 seconds to get the scene. Each of the three drivers takes a truck, the captain climbs on board one of them, and off they go. Each truck is a regular one man band. They are designed so that the driver can control all of the firefighting equipment without ever leaving the driver's seat. And they make it so easy.
Last year following the CAF air show a plane crashed on takeoff and caught fire. The firefighters extinguished the flames, and the pilot and passengers all walked away unhurt. But the plane was basically ruined, so the owners salvaged what they could and donated the fuselage to the fire department for training purposes.
One of the fire trucks at the airport station has a contraption with a very large needle on the end which reaches over to a plane, stabs a hole in it, and injects Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) into it which would extinguish any fire inside the passenger compartment. (Tip for passengers on a burning plane: Keep you head down!)
At the practice area they've also got an old donated steel cylinder that was once used in oil refining. Welders have attached some fake wings and fake jet engines, and a nearby propane tank feeds those engines so that they put out a pretty big flame. A truck rolls up, the driver points a nozzle at it, and splash, the fire is out.
They really do make it look easy. But each of them has had a lot of training to get where they are. And not only do they have to comply with the rules of the Texas Commission on Fire Protection, they also have the FAA looking over their shoulders with one full day of inspections each and every year.
I don't have the statistics, but a surprising number of people survive plane crashes. And we owe it to people like the firefighters of the Midland Fire Department for helping to save those lives.
(Episode 2 of this series can be found here: Fighting Fires -- Handling a Fire Hose.)