Aircraft Firefighting: Dangers to Responders At General-Aviation Accidents

Chief Todd Bane addresses the technical challenges departments face when they respond to aircraft incidents in their community.


Extrication techniques

An important point to remember is that standard extrication techniques may not work on aircraft. Aircraft aluminum tears easily during accidents and leaves sharp edges. Rescues may require hand, air or electric tools or unconventional techniques.

By working along a rivet line, the skin will cut or tear easily. (Rivet lines are where the stringers and formers are joined to the aircraft skin.) Stringers and formers are the skeleton to which the aircraft skin is attached. Stringers run longitudinal and formers run laterally. If using a striking tool to cut or tear metal, the closer you strike to a rivet line, the easier the cutting will be. Striking or cutting in the middle area of these will cause the metal to bounce due to no supporting structure in the area. If the accident involves an aircraft constructed from composite materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber, there will be no rivet lines to guide you as to stringer and former locations.


Response guidelines

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) response guidelines for aviation accidents suggests the acronym “RAG” for rescue, advise and guard:

• Rescue – If a rescue must be effected, proceed with the rescue and take whatever actions are needed to complete that rescue as safely as possible. When the rescue is complete, leave the aircraft as it is and do not disturb the scene any more than necessary. Any deceased victims may be moved to affect a rescue or if they are in danger of being destroyed by fire, if they are not, leave them in place.

• Advise – The FAA will request information about your location; aircraft tail number, make, model and serial number, if available; number of injuries and fatalities; and the primary contact number for an on-site commander.

• Guard – Place scene tape around the crash site if possible and deny entry to the site. Most important, do not touch any switches and levers or remove any parts from the scene. Aviation accidents are heavily investigated and it is important for investigators to have all the pieces.

Guidelines for an aircraft accident can be found at This website provides a great deal of information in dealing with aviation accidents. The Advisory Circular, or AC 150\1200-12C, addresses securing an aircraft crash site.



Aircraft accidents can provide many challenges and obstacles for responders both by type of accident and final resting location. These challenges will be compounded when dealing with a commercial aviation crash.

An upcoming article will present an in-depth look at commercial aircraft construction, gaining entry to a commercial aircraft and specific dangers to emergency responders. n