Airport Safety Starts with a Fire Drill

By Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff

Travelers heading into John F. Kennedy International Airport on a recent Monday may have been startled by the sight of a plane engulfed in flames on the runway. What the passengers didn’t know is that the fire was a training session aboard a replica aircraft, used to train members of the Port Authority’s elite Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Unit (ARFF).

During the training exercise, ARFF team members battled the blaze using specialized trucks equipped with foam and hundreds of gallons of water. Then, they strapped on 70 pounds of fire protective gear before extinguishing fires in the engine, wheel well and wing while initiating a rescue operation, all within seconds.


ARFF is a unique unit of the Port Authority Aviation Department, staffed and operated by police officers trained to serve as firefighters responding to emergencies with aircraft. Each officer assigned to ARFF is a Federal Aviation Administration-certified aircraft rescue firefighter and must requalify twice annually, which exceeds FAA requirements.

“Public safety is a top priority for the Port Authority,” said Chief Security Officer John Bilich. “ARFF plays a critical role in ensuring that travelers flying in and out of our airports have the highest level of protection. The training component, whether visible or invisible, to the public is crucial in keeping the firefighters focused on making quick decisions.”

The goal is that ARFF is always available and rarely needed, but when called to service responds effectively in dangerous situations. During one weekend in March, ARFF responded to a flight that made an emergency landing at Newark Liberty International Airport after a report of fire and smoke onboard. The team evacuated the passengers to the runway via emergency slides; only two minor injuries were sustained.

WABC – Channel 7 recently featured the unit and their training: 

There is also a mutual aid component to the unit’s service. When a small plane crash-landed during the past weekend in a Long Island neighborhood about nine miles from JFK, an ARFF unit was dispatched to assist local fire and rescue personnel.

Training standards are rigorous. “This is the most regulated discipline in fire training in the entire world,” said ARFF Chief Tom Wieczerzack, a 20-year veteran who oversees the unit’s training. “We have to make sure personnel are proficient in their knowledge, skills and ability. On top of that, we have to keep up with regulatory requirements.”

Rapid response could mean the difference between life and death. The challenges ARFF officers face differ from fighting a conventional building fire, from the difficult shape of an aircraft and the rescue challenges it presents, to the fact that planes can be carrying thousands of gallons of fuel, potentially making a bad situation worse.

About 80 percent of aircraft incidents happen within a 3,000-foot radius of the airport, either on take-off, taxiing or landing.  ARFF has about 300 personnel assigned across the Port Authority’s airports, with 24 trucks at its disposal that can be deployed when airport control towers report an aircraft emergency.

Brendan Curley, an ARFF crew chief at JFK with 17 years on the job, takes comfort in the constant training regimen. “To stay sharp, we do have to train so when a real-world incident does occur, we know what we have to do,” he said.

Most training takes place at the JFK training center set up to meet any firefighting situation. A 125-foot diameter pit employs clean-burning propane to simulate a fire, and the center also features a 75-foot aircraft mock-up with a broken wing section. Computer controls allow for the creation of firefighting scenarios that vary in size, difficulty and intensity.


ARFF Trainer Sgt. Anthony Heinlein demonstrating how the system works to create firefighting scenarios at JFK Training Center

ARFF continuously trains for firefighting and potential emergency rescues from planes   at JFK, Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and Teterboro airports. They also train operations personnel assigned to New York Stewart International Airport, as well as other area airports in aircraft rescue and firefighting.

For many of the unit’s officers, the opportunity to work with ARFF and bring special skills to potentially life-saving situations is a dream come true.

“Many kids have the dream of becoming a cop or a firefighter. But in this job I can be both,” Curley said.

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Posted in airports, aviation, aviation geeks, EWR, FAA, John F. Kennedy International Airport, Kennedy Airport, Kennedy International, LaGuardia Airport, LGA, New York, Newark Liberty International Airport, NY/NJ region, PAPD, Port Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Port Authority of NY/NJ, Port Authority Police Department, Teterboro Airport, Uncategorized | Tagged

Women’s Empowerment Group Takes Off at LaGuardia

By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff

Last year, three women at the helm of LaGuardia Airport’s management piloted a program aimed at connecting and empowering women in aviation. Now, less than a year later, WOW – short for Women Empowering Other Women — is already 50 members strong and growing.

LaGuardia General Manager Lysa Scully remembers brainstorming with her colleagues, Senior Policy Analyst Madeline Arango and Assistant Manager of Airport Maintenance Michele Delgado, about how to address the need for women-focused mentorship and networking communities at the airport.

“We had been doing annual events around International Women’s Day to recognize women and their contributions, but we knew we wanted to go far beyond that,” Scully said.


From left: Madeline Arango, Michele Delgado and Lysa Scully (Credit: Benjamin Fang, Queens Ledger)

Delgado and Arango stepped up to the challenge. According to Delgado, they wanted to form WOW as a safe place where women could share their experiences, as well as support and inspire each other. After all, the aviation staff at LaGuardia Airport is about 20 percent female.

“Initially, there was some hesitation on my part because I had only been at LaGuardia for nine months, and I didn’t know that many people,” Delgado recalls. “I wanted to make sure the group represented what people wanted to have, rather than just what I wanted it to be.”

Chanelle Thomas Henry, the Community Outreach Manager for the LaGuardia Redevelopment project, hasn’t missed a meeting since the group started about nine months ago. “I like coming to WOW meetings because it’s a place where I can relate to other people’s struggles and challenges — everyone from interns to top executives,” she said.

At a recent meeting, about 30 WOW members heard stories and advice from Jane Garvey, the first female head of the Federal Aviation Administration who served under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Garvey spoke about balancing raising a family while working in government offices far from home. She also shared how she made her voice heard in predominantly male workplaces. “As women, we tend to hold back more than males,” she said. “Always be prepared and be a good listener. Your voice is just as important as everybody else’s.”

Wow 1

Members of WOW with former FAA chief Jane Garvey (center, in green)

Through organizing community service and networking opportunities with the group, Arango and Delgado feel they are filling a void in their colleagues’ careers. “One woman told me that she had been searching for a group like this to be a part of. That made me feel good, like we are doing something that adds real value to the day-to-day lives of our members,” Arango said.

Delgado added, “Women come to the meetings on their free time because they want to. I’m proud of the effort and time they put into this group on top of a full-time job.”

WOW’s early success has Arango and Delgado excited about what’s to come. “I’m looking forward to hopefully fulling people’s expectations by growing the group’s scope, accomplishments and reach in 2019 and beyond,” Arango said.

Posted in aviation, aviation geeks, FAA, LaGuardia Airport, LGA, Port Authority, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Queens, Uncategorized

Oculus Hosts LEGO Block Party

By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff

550 hours of labor. 40,000 pieces. One incredible Oculus LEGO model.

The scene in the World Trade Center’s Oculus this morning was one of enthusiasm, anticipation and wonder. After presentations from various LEGOLand officials, New York Stewart International Airport General Manager Ed Harrison was the one to pull a lever revealing the intricate three-foot LEGO model of the iconic building in which all of the attendees were standing.

LEGO Master Model Builder AJ Deguzman worked on the Oculus LEGO model in Florida, and it was shipped up to New York City once completed. “It was pretty daunting to build since it was so unique in structure,” he said. The trick? “Build from the base and then put some LEGO magic in there.”

LEGOLand’s upcoming New York Resort, set to open in Spring 2020, will sit on a sprawling 500-acre site in Goshen, N.Y., just 16 miles from New York Stewart. The international destinations served by Stewart and a new bus route from Port Authority Bus Terminal to LEGOLand will contribute to the number of annual visitors and the overall economic growth of the region.


Harrison with the Oculus LEGO model

“When I met with LEGOLand executives at Stewart a couple years ago, they saw our facilities, they saw our runways, and they saw our potential to bring international passengers to Orange County, New York, and LEGOLand,” Harrison said. “It’s an exciting moment for us. New York is open for business!”

LEGOLand’s 150-acre New York Resort is the first of its kind in the Northeast, and it will encompass over 50 rides, shows, and attractions, as well as a 250-room hotel.


A rendering of the LEGOLand attraction coming to Upstate New York

“It’s been so great working with the Port Authority to put this on,” said Matt Besterman of the LEGOLand New York Resort team. “Unveiling this model Oculus right here in the Oculus is our tribute to the spirit of New York.”

The model displayed today in the Oculus and will eventually be installed in Miniland, an interactive part of the park featuring animated LEGO-built U.S. cities.

Photo Credit: LEGOland New York Resort

Posted in Oculus, Stewart International Airport, The Oculus, Uncategorized, World Trade Center Transportation Oculus | Tagged , , ,