PFAS on airport fire chiefs convention agenda

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Airport and aircraft safety is the focus at the DeVos Place Convention Center this week.

Grand Rapids is hosting the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Rescue Working Group’s annual conference. Some 500 airport fire chiefs from all over the U.S. and several other countries are taking part in the gathering, checking out the latest gear, techniques and topics.

“We’ve got people here from, Indonesia, from Sweden, India,” Gerald R. Ford International Airport Fire Chief Joe Dancz listed.

airport fire chief conference
The annual conference of the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Rescue Working Group is held at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids on Sept. 9, 2019.

They’re also dealing with issues off the runway, including PFAS. At the National Foam booth, one of the more than 60 vendors at the convention, the talk was about not only how effective the foam is at smothering flames in aircraft crashes, but also the long-term effects of that foam.

The foam that airport fire departments use contains PFAS, a likely carcinogen linked to groundwater contamination and a variety of other illnesses. While crews have rarely needed the foam for actual aircraft crashes, it has been used for training at airports in West Michigan and around the country for decades.

So along with discussing ways to deal with everything from drones encroaching on airports to how to prepare for terrorist and active shooter attacks, a panel discussion on PFAS is on Wednesday’s schedule.

“How people should be ready to deal with it when it meets their facility or their area,” Dancz explained.

One of the biggest challenges is mandatory testing of fire equipment. Ford and other airports, including the one in Kalamazoo, have purchased systems that simulate the use of the foam.

“Besides the fact that we don’t put any on the ground, we also save by not having to shoot it because it’s not cheap,” Dancz said.

The federal government has mandated the use of PFAS-free foams at commercial airports by October 2021. Companies like National Foam are working on products that are free of PFAS but can still get the job done.

“A tool to use that will still meet their performance requirements but also will address some of their concerns with reference to the utilization of the product,” National Foam General Manager Robert Nelson said.

This is the first time the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Working Group has met in Grand Rapids. Dancz lobbied the group, who will put about $650,000 into the local economy over the next three days, to come to Grand Rapids.

“The (ARFFWG) board came to Grand Rapids and I think we were one of six (cities) they visited,” Dancz said. “And we were selected out of the six.”

For his efforts, Experience Grand Rapids is honoring Dancz as a Hometown Champion.

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