AN OVERVIEW OF THE RAF FIRE SERVICE
The First RAF Fire Fighters had a demanding task, fighting fires in aircraft was a new concept and required different methods from conventional fire fighting. In a crashed aircraft, aircrew surrounded by fire have only three minute survival time and this requires rapid response and suppression of flames in order to create survivable conditions to affect a rescue. The early fire fighters found themselves poorly trained and under equipped and they had to develop new skills with the equipment they had inherited which were not purpose built but converted standard fire vehicles. Those pioneers overcame these obstacles and paved the way for today’s RAF Fire Fighters and from those times to the present their aims were:
- To Save Life
- To Minimise Damage to Aircraft and Associated Equipment
- To Make Safe any Special Risk
RAF Fire Fighters have served all over the world from Africa to the Middle East, India, Far East, Central America, Falklands, Canada and Europe and had to operate in hostile environments and conflict zones which always brings new challenges. Apart from aircraft crash rescue RAF Fire Fighters are also trained in conventional fire fighting enabling them to react to fires in technical areas and married quarters and on numerous occasions have assisted the Civil Fire service in local off base incidents. They also have been trained to;
- Carry out Light rescue.
- Fight fires involving Nuclear Weapons.
- Carry out Fire Prevention of buildings.
They also have been involved in two specialised units which;
- Provided fire cover to Nuclear Convoys on the UK roads.
- Provided fire cover to The Queens Flight.
The RAF Fire Service is by nature a rapid response force they have always been considered the best people to carry out immediate operational tasks on and off the airfield and during their history they have been involved in;
- Deployment of emergency airfield lighting.
- Bird scaring.Recovery of aircraft engaging the Rotary Hydraulic Arrester Gear (RHAG).
- Barrier Arresting Gear.
- Inshore rescue.
- Casualty evacuation in war zones
During their history RAF Firefighters have received many awards for acts of bravery, many of these were earned during WWII but many have been awarded in modern times. The awards include George Cross’s, George Medals, B.E.M.s and the highest was the Queens Gallantry Medal awarded in 2011 to Warrant Officer Steve Bowden for an incident in Afghanistan.
To trace the roots of the RAF Fire Service it is necessary to go back to the early days of Military Aviation, and as aircraft became more complex so did the Fire Fighters job and the need for improved equipment to enable them to save lives.
The RAF was officially formed on the 1st April 1918 and during its formative years the loss of aircraft and equipment due to fires caused a great deal of concern. These incidents can be said to have been the foundation stones of the present RAF Fire Service. Although it must be remembered at this time, personnel tasked with fire-fighting were taken from different trades, with fire fighting a secondary task and this would be the status quo until 1943 when the Air Ministry promulgated an order creating the trade of Fireman which would be a full time occupation.