Safety at Munich’s airport is ensured by more than 200 fire fighters, who always seek the latest technology in their fire engines – including the HLF 20 by MAN.
On this exam day, 11 young fire fighters must prove that all their moves are spot on, as every second counts in case of an emergency. They are assembled at the rear of MAN’s new assistance fire-fighting group engine HLF 20 that is deployed for structural fire safety at Munich’s airport – which comprises just about every building at the airport. These days, the smoke detectors in every hall and in every room add up to about 65,000 units. “We are equipped with individual signal recognition and there is a position plan for every single alarm,” explains group leader Lars Boehlkau.
As the group can observe on the computer screen attached in the vehicle above the extinguishing exits, the 2,000-litre tank is filling up. The entire pumping output is managed via the computer system, which also executes all commands. Decisions on how to pursue fire fighting activities are made in the rear area of the vehicle, which extends over almost nine metres in length. The middle section is used for storing everything utilised for assistance action, such as a power generator to operate the light tower on the roof under conditions of darkness. Or the hydraulic rescue equipment deployed in cases of people being stuck.
Every fire fighter must be qualified to operate every fire engine, as determined by the exam. “When I issue the command for water or foam output as group leader, everything must work without a hitch,” says team leader Lars Boehlkau. Keeping slightly in the background, he observes the proceedings in the southern area of the fire station. The tank is almost filled up, as the blue band on the display moves up rapidly. MAN’s HLF 20 has been operating for about six months, with the pump already running for 49 hours.
Although group leader Boehlkau no longer drives the fire engines himself, he is testing the HLF 20 diesel vehicle with six-cylinder technology and Euro 6 standard today. He finds it exciting, whenever a new fire engine joins the fleet: “This is the latest technology available on the market, so obviously we are all interested.” After the doors have closed and the background noise of diesel and aeroplane engines has gone silent, Lars Boehlkau starts driving and it becomes immediately apparent just how quiet the interior of the HLF 20 really is. Airport grounds also have traffic rules – even though the prerogative is that planes always possess right of way. Airport buses, luggage and delivery trucks with oversized load beds are crisscrossing the roadways, airpanes are lined up wing-to-wing on the left and right and from up close, everything appears much larger. Lars Boehlkau come to a halt in front of the turbine testing hall, where the turbines of a Boing are going through the paces. “We have to wait right now, otherwise the roughly 20 tonnes of this vehicle would be just blown away.”
Among the responsibilities of the airport’s fire brigade is the fuel depot with a volume of 30,000 cubic metres, which is replenished twice a day by large tank cars. The fuel depot is subject to major accident ordinance rules akin to nuclear power plants, as the environmental impact in case of an incident would be massive. The underground train system areal bordering the airport, as well as the motorway, are also protected by the airport fire team. Roughly 120,000 people move about the airport every day, which can indeed set off the occasional smoke detector alarm. The fire engine always carries a water container onboard – as nothing more elaborate is needed for a burning waste container. Last week, a larger fire broke out in a cargo area due to a technical defect and Boehlkau and his men needed roughly three hours to extinguish the flames. “The storage area contained a lot of paper, so we had to reactivate our quenching efforts even on the next day. Fortunately, however, we have not experienced any major deployments in recent years, which would also include planes,” reports Boehlkau. Still, the fire brigade team moves out almost every day, reacting instantly to any disruption or malfunctioning report. Such as one issued this morning by an aeroplane, whose pilot was not entirely sure whether the turbines would function properly upon touchdown – whereupon the airport brigade’s fire engines are immediately standing ready at the runway. “It all turned out alright in the end, which fortunately is mostly the case,” relates Lars Boehlkau. Incidentally, the young fire fighters have also passed their exam at the HLF 20 without any difficulty. Finally, the crew puts its vehicle through a wash, readying it for the next deployment.
Images: © Oliver Soulas
Protection against fire and other disasters depends on having emergency vehicles you can trust.