Engine 78: A Year In Review

The Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine 78 (E78) is the Aircraft Rescue Firefighting unit (ARFF) located at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). To ensure the safety of the airport and aircraft, the Engine 78 team is always ready to fight the flames, respond to medical emergencies, and educate the public about their mission.  

“The whole mission of Engine 78 is the protection of passengers and aircraft. That's our number one objective and we are FAA-mandated to be here,” says ARFF Chief Kamau Bright.  

During fiscal year (FY) 2023, E78 responded to 80 alerts, or aircraft emergencies, at PHL. An alert happens when anFire Truck aircraft transmits an out-of-the-ordinary situation to the air traffic control tower, who then calls E78 directly by phone. Alert 1 is for minor aircraft issues, such as an indicator light or flap malfunction; Alert 2 is for more serious issues, such as a bird strike with obvious damage; and Alert 3 is for a confirmed crash with suspected injuries. The type of aircraft, fuel capacity, passenger count, issue, landing location, and estimated landing time are the details that the ARFF receives. These specific details are essential as there are predetermined spots on each runway where the trucks must wait, and ARFF needs to be there for the plane’s landing. Following the touch down, those trucks will circle the aircraft, check to ensure there are no issues from the outside of the plane, and then start working on the reported alert. Flap issues and indicator lights are the most common alerts. Last fiscal year, a landing gear issue was the most severe alert at PHL. During that incident, the front gear collapsed when the plane touched down. Thankfully, it did not result in any fires, fuel spills or injuries. 

AR30While alerts are specific to aircraft issues, E78 also responds to codes, which are non-aircraft related issues. In 2022, E78 responded to 457 code-red calls. These are still fire emergencies, just located in other areas than the aircraft. Code-red incidents include malfunctioning elevators, general fire alarms, smoke and fire smells, and fuel spills among other things.  

In addition to alerts and codes, E78 also handles medical emergencies. In 2022, there were 1,942 code-yellow calls handled by the ARFF team. In response to that volume of calls, a new pilot program was launched in August 2023. AR30 is the Alternative Response unit for Medic 30 - the medic company housed at E78. AR30 is designed to function within the airport terminals offering a more prompt response than if M30 needed to respond. The small vehicle is equipped with advanced life support capabilities and can handle a variety of medical needs. Medic 30 will still take patients to the hospital if needed and respond to a code-yellow if AR30 is already responding elsewhere. In the event a third cold-yellow occurs at the same time, ARFF will dispatch an F10 structural truck along with an outside medic unit to the terminal.  

Training facilityBy April 2023, E78's training center renovations were complete, offering a state-of-the-art training setting. The project is a part of PHL's capital development program. The two props—a plane simulator and a spill trainer—were fully renovated, with new computer programming, gauges, and piping. A water pit was installed for the spill trainer, which replicates a fuel spill and fire well. With the new wet deck, it is possible to practice putting out fuel spill fires across a sizable area and simulating a plane crash with an ignited fuel spill. Previously, the prop had a different kind of ignition system and was filled with rocks. The second prop is a plane simulator where firefighters can practice putting out fires internally on an aircraft, as well as on its wheel brakes. 

In order to improve the ARFF water rescue program's capabilities, E78 welcomed a newRHIB Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boat, or RHIB. Compared to its predecessor, the RHIB is more powerful, stable, and larger. It was successfully tested during this year’s PHL EPEX training. The new boat is the first of two that were ordered. First responders focus their training and resources on being able to quickly get the boats out on the water, assess the situation, and provide people with life jackets and life rings so they can keep holding on until outside resources arrive to proceed with a water rescue. 

In addition to saving lives, E78 gives staff from the Philadelphia Fire Department, PHL, outside organizations, schools, and Boys and Girls Clubs tours of its facilities. It also serves as a useful training facility for Seeing Eye® puppies, as the animals can be around the trucks to get used to the size and noise. In total, 20 of those tours were held at E78 in the most recent fiscal year. 


Media Contacts

Christine Ottow
Director of Strategic Communications
[email protected]
Heather Redfern
Public Affairs Manager
[email protected]

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