On 5 December 2018, the following matters were referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee (committee) for inquiry and report by the second sitting day in August 2019:
The provision of rescue, firefighting and emergency response at Australian airports, with particular reference to:
the current standards applicable to the provision of aerodrome rescue and firefighting services relating to community safety and the emergency personnel safety;
the standards for the provision of emergency response at Australian airports, including emergency medical response and response to structure fires and other incidents;
the comparison of safe systems of emergency response standards and systems of work for firefighting and rescue operations for structure fires, aircraft rescue, emergency medical response and other emergency incidents;
the consideration of best practice, including relevant international standards;
the mechanisms and criteria for the review of the provisions of safety standards for the provision of rescue and firefighting services, if any;
a review of Airservices Australia policy and administration of aviation rescue and firefighting services;
the effectiveness and independence of the regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), to uphold aviation rescue and firefighting safety standards;
the impact on Australia’s national and international reputation and aviation safety record as a result of any lowering of aviation rescue and firefighting services; and
any other related matters.
Conduct of the inquiry
Information about the inquiry was made available on the committee's webpage. During the 45th Parliament, the committee also wrote to aviation stakeholders, state emergency service organisations and other interested groups to invite submissions. Details regarding the inquiry and associated documents are available on the committee's webpage.
The committee received 25 public submissions which are listed at Appendix 1. Public submissions to the inquiry are also published on the committee webpage.
The committee held a number of public hearings in relation to the inquiry during the 45th Parliament, as follows:
Melbourne, Victoria, on 14 March 2019;
Adelaide, South Australia, on 20 March 2019; and
Brisbane Airport, Queensland, on 16 April 2019.
A list of witnesses who appeared at these hearings is at Appendix 2.
The committee thanks all individuals and organisations that participated in the inquiry, by making submissions and giving evidence at public hearings.
Structure of the report
This chapter provides a brief overview of Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services (ARFFS).
The second chapter details the international and Australian standards and regulations in place which determine how aviation rescue services should be implemented at aerodromes across Australia.
Chapter 3 examines the suitability of firefighting equipment and resources at ARFFS stations, and considers the concerns raised about the location of the new fire station, built to service the new Brisbane Airport runway.
Chapter 4 highlights the concerns of stakeholders regarding the level of staffing provided at ARFFS fire stations, including issues that may arise with the redeployment of crews to non‑regulated emergency responses.
The fifth chapter highlights the division of responsibilities between the ARFFS and state and territory fire services. It highlights the concerns raised about the allocation of aviation rescue services to non‑regulated emergency responses.
Chapter 6 details the use of task resource analyses to determine the adequate resourcing of aviation firefighting stations. It also considers a number of reviews which have been undertaken into the regulatory framework for aviation and rescue firefighting, and presents overall views as to the adequacy of the provision of ARFFS by Airservices Australia.
Chapter 7 presents the committee's views and recommendations.
What are Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting Services?
Aviation Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) is a unique branch of firefighting, requiring specialised equipment and specialist skills and training to properly fulfil its role of optimising the chances of survival of passengers and crew in the event of an aircraft accident.
International standards developed for the provision of ARFF services (discussed further in Chapter 2) were developed based on the following parameters:
about 70 per cent of aircraft crashes occur on aerodromes;
of those that occur on aerodromes, 90 per cent are survivable;
people on board a major aircraft involved in a fire can survive up to four minutes; and
intervention of an ARFF service within that four minutes can extend that time limit, allowing people on board to be rescued.
The United Firefighters Union of Australia (UFUA) further observed that approximately 38 per cent of airline accidents that result in fatal injury occur on or near the ground, whilst an aircraft is parked, being towed or during taxiing, take‑off and landing.
ARFF responds to such aircraft and airport emergencies. An ARFFS at an Australian aerodrome is responsible for:
rescuing persons and property from an aircraft that has crashed or caught fire during landing or take‑off; and
controlling and extinguishing, and protecting persons and property threatened by, a fire on an aerodrome, whether or not in an aircraft.
The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (DIRDC) stated that the primary function of the ARFFS is to:
…rescue people from an aircraft that has crashed or caught fire during landing or take-off on or in the vicinity of an aerodrome and to control and extinguish fires relating to aviation activities on the airport site.
It was put to the committee that the Australian ARFF service is considered one of the world's largest, with more than 900 operational and support personnel charged with responding to the broad range of aviation and airport emergencies which may occur on an aerodrome.
Airservices Australia (Airservices) provides ARFF services at 26 Australian airports. In 2017–18, ARFFS responded to nearly 6800 emergencies, and saved 17 lives.
Fire stations at the busiest Australian airports are equipped to provide a 24‑hour ARFF service, with the largest ARFF stations located at Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. The hours of operation at smaller airports are determined by commercial passenger aircraft flight schedules.
The ARFFS stations located across Australia are listed in Table 1.1 below.
Table 1.1: Aviation rescue firefighting service locations in Australia
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
Sydney, Ballina, Coffs Harbour
Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Darwin
Brisbane, Cairns, Gladstone, Gold Coast, Hamilton Island, Mackay, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast, Townsville
Broome, Karratha, Newman, Perth, Port Hedland
In its provision of firefighting services, the ARFFS must respond to an aircraft incident at either end of a runway within three minutes of the initial call alerting it to the emergency, and be able to apply firefighting agent (namely water and foam) at 50 per cent of a pre-determined maximum discharge rate. Further, the ARFFS must be able to respond to any part of the airport movement area within three minutes.
Airservices provides ARFFS in accordance with the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASRs). The provision of ARFFS requires investment by Airservices in buildings, vehicles, technical equipment, personnel and the development and implementation of operations manuals and a safety management system at each location.
Airservices owns, operates and maintains a fleet of over 120 specialised, high performance ARFFS vehicles, aerial rescue vehicles, water rescue boats, difficult terrain vehicles and domestic response vehicles. Airservices advised that this allows for responses to a broad range of emergencies, including aircraft incidents, water rescue responses, fire alarm activations and structural fires, medical assistance requests and hazardous material incidents.
According to DIRDC, additional services are performed by Airservices, via ARFFS, but these must not prevent ARFFS from performing its core functions. DIRDC advised that the additional services include:
…emergency first aid, alarm monitoring, building certification, and assisting other fire and police services under mutual aid arrangements. Airservices is not required to provide these additional services, and they must not impede on Airservices’ capacity to perform its core ARFFS function and maintain its required ARFFS category without compromise. The [Air Services Act 1995] specifies that in performing its functions, Airservices must regard the safety of air navigation as the most important consideration.
Under the CASR, there is nothing to prevent an ARFFS provider from an aerodrome performing fire control or rescue services elsewhere than on the aerodrome, but the provider must give priority to its main responsibilities of rescuing persons and property, and controlling aircraft and aerodrome fires.