By Krista Didzbalis, Media Relations Staff
Nestled among the active runways, ramps, and taxiways of John F. Kennedy International Airport sits an area virtually unknown to travelers — an airside fire station serving as home to the Port Authority’s Airport Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) crew. In the event of an airport ground emergency, ARFF members are trained to respond, mitigate hazards, and evacuate or rescue aircraft passengers and crew.
For Barry Daskal, a Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) sergeant and ARFF crew chief at JFK, his unit provides a critical layer of protection for travelers flying into and out of one of the world’s busiest airports.
“We’re like an insurance policy for the airport,” he said. “Our job is to make sure the public is safe.”
A typical day for Daskal starts at 7 a.m. at the airport firehouse, where he begins by catching up with fellow crew members, gathers updates from the overnight shift, takes care of routine truck maintenance and conducts other preparatory tasks, such as reviewing tools, trucks and aircrafts,
The ARFF crew at JFK, and similar units stationed at Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia and Teterboro airports, occasionally are called in to handle engine fires or other more severe emergency events requiring rapid responses or passenger evacuation.
More common are the types of calls that are precautionary and designed to quickly identify and minimize potential problems. That includes odors or alarms that may indicate a possible aircraft issue. With a thermal imaging camera, firefighters look for smoke, flames, leaks, excess heat signatures, and problems with hydraulics.
No sooner had Daskal begun his preparation on a recent morning when a call came in about an aircraft with overheating brakes and wheels. The crew responded immediately, taking heat readings from his onboard truck system and the thermal camera, which determined the brakes were at 700 degrees and climbing.
Daskal directed the operation, updating the police communications desk while truck-mounted water turrets and hoses controlled by his firefighters cooled the breaks. The aircraft was towed safely back to the gate, with minimal delays to airport operations. Passengers remained safely on board throughout the incident.
One afternoon, an aircraft had returned to the airport after the flight crew received an indication of a strange odor. The ARFF crew ventilated the aircraft, helped the passengers safely deplane, escorted them to buses and brought the flight crew to nearby ambulances called as a precaution.
“It’s just a different mindset,” Daskal said of the crew’s firefighting regimen. “When you’re a regular structural firefighter, you’re taught that the quicker you put out the fire, the quicker the problem goes away. The big difference for us is that we need to create and maintain escape paths and control an emergency rather than focus on extinguishing.”
Daskal began his own Port Authority journey in 2002 as a member of the PAPD, where he was initially assigned to patrol at JFK. To be cross-trained as a firefighter, he took a training opportunity at the Fire Academy in 2004 before joining ARFF in 2014.
As crew chief, he is responsible for conducting training sessions. Firefighters rotate through topics as simple as firefighter safety to more focused training on specialized ARFF equipment. In addition to overseeing training, Daskal must familiarize himself with every aircraft that flies out of JFK airport and understand specialized tools and equipment.
A volunteer firefighter in his Massapequa, L.I. community for more than 25 years, Daskal is equally as passionate about protecting and serving his community as he is the people who work at and travel through Port Authority facilities.
“The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that we are here to ensure that the public is safe. Knowing that a simple intervention with an emergency can impact travelers around the world is a really cool feeling,” he said.