Phoenix Sky Harbor International


The City of Phoenix owns and operates the Phoenix Airport System, which consists of Sky Harbor International Airport, Deer Valley and Goodyear airports. In addition to protecting lives and property for the sixth most populous city in the U.S., the City of Phoenix Fire Department oversees fire and emergency response at these three airports, the largest of which is Sky Harbor. The airport features three runways and three fire stations.

“From a staffing standpoint [at Sky Harbor], there are 56 personnel, and 17 people on duty…during all three shifts,” said Elizabeth Hendel, Phoenix Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief, Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF). “But when someone is needed for backfill, they come from other ranks of the fire department. Currently, there are 140 ARFF firefighters trained to work here. It’s a specialty, and you can’t have just anyone working at an airport.”

Chief Hendel has close to thirty years of service on the City of Phoenix fire department. She was promoted through the ranks, and is now in charge of District 19, which includes Sky Harbor International. Chief Hendel initially became interested in firefighting back in the 80’s. “I worked at a grocery store at the time, and an elderly gentleman walking through the grocery aisle had a heart attack,” she recalled. “I went to his aid and started CPR, and I really liked being able to do that. I said ‘I should look into this career instead of the grocery store business.’ Six months later I was talking to firefighters!”

Sky Harbor is a dynamic international gateway with three runways, and a sprawling infrastructure of buildings. The fire department must pace itself in order to keep up with the airport’s growth. “I’ve seen a lot of changes at this airport,” stated Chief Hendel. “Almost every month there’s a new project, and these always present challenges for us.” One of the latest such initiatives is a sky train people mover. “We’ve got to keep on top of all construction and building projects and then, once they are completed, go through comprehensive training for our firefighters.”

By index, Sky Harbor’s requirement calls for three frontline ARFF trucks. (In addition, they have two structural engines that also serve as ALS paramedic trucks, and a low profile squad truck that can make it into parking garages in case of car fires.) Having reliable equipment that is prepared for any emergency is a priority, and the airport’s ARFF fleet is a critical component of their response capability. “One of the biggest complaints, when I got to this position several years ago, was that our ARFF fleet wasn’t keeping up with the times,” said Chief Hendel. “Most of the trucks were in the shop, we couldn’t get them quickly repaired, and it was costing too much money to keep that fleet in service.”

Upgrading its ARFF vehicle fleet was a comprehensive process, and the fire department followed the same procedures it used for its municipal fire apparatus fleet. “We met with our city fleet and aviation teams, and put a plan in place similar to what our department has for its municipal firefighting fleet,” said Chief Hendel. “We polled a number of airports, and identified a 12-15 year industry standard to replace ARFF trucks. We now have a plan in place, it’s in the computer database: after 12 years a flag goes up to our city fleet management that it’s time to begin the specification process and order a replacement.”

A part of the department’s vehicle fleet plan included transitioning its ARFF fleet around a single vehicle platform – with a reputation for reliability and performance – and that’s when Oshkosh Striker came onto the scene. ”We’re moving our fleet to one brand,” said Chief Hendel. “We looked at several different ARFF trucks at trade shows and the like, and we’ve had various brands throughout the years. But everyone seemed to like Oshkosh best. And our city fleet and mechanics liked the Oshkosh because of the service and support after the sale. That’s really critical.”

The fleet’s newest Striker is a 6 x 6 with the Snozzle High Reach Extendable Turret (HRET). The 6 x 6 also has a dry chemical firefighting system and a side mount pump panel with crosslays. “With the new Striker 6 x 6, we still meet the airport index requirement because we have the pair of Striker 8 x 8s,” explained the Chief, “but the high reach turret gives us more flexibility.” She added, “All three Strikers feature the same basic pump panel, and interior cab layout, so there’s not a lot of difference between the vehicles. It’s a whole lot easier to train firefighters. And our team likes the roomy cab and the ergonomics – everything inside the cab is at your fingertips within easy reach.”

The Chief is quick to point out the advantages provided by the Snozzle HRET, as well as other features specified on the new rig, which always carries a minimum of two firefighters. “The Snozzle will assist in interior attacks – prior to sending a crew inside,” said Chief Hendel. “It will be especially good for cargo fires. It also goes below grade so you can sweep underneath. The turret will put out the bulk of the fire but we can use handlines for mop-up.”

Unlike many other airports, Sky Harbor does not use FAA funding for its ARFF trucks. “We don’t do FAA grants; we use Captial Improvement Program (CIP) money, and that’s why our trucks are red instead of yellow,’” explained Chief Hendel. “With CIP, we can outfit the trucks the way we want them, and can include handlines, a side pump panel, and other features.

Chief Hendel concluded, “We like to Phoenix-ize the Strikers. We have a dedicated make ready shop, where we do our own lettering, and install the radios and other equipment. Then Oshkosh comes out out for a week and trains all of our drivers before the vehicles go into service.”