Firefighters at Sky Harbor prepare for the unknown - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Firefighters at Sky Harbor prepare for the unknown

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Santa has his own form of air transportation, but the rest of us have to fly on airplanes. If anything goes wrong with those planes on take off or landing, there's a special group of firefighters trained to handle it.

Sky Harbor Airport has its own fire station built right next to Terminal 3.

In March 2001, a Southwest Airlines jet skid off the end of the runway at Sky Harbor.  The plane was surrounded by emergency crews, making sure everyone got off the plane safely.

Just over a year later, an America West jet had problems with its landing gear and again, crews were there to make sure the plane didn't catch fire.

Preparing for the unknown is the biggest job here at Station 19, a Phoenix fire station that handles all emergences at Sky Harbor.  From things like falls and heart attacks to planes in trouble.

For the first time ever, the crews there allowed us to come along as they shut down a runway and prepared for something that everybody hopes never happens.

These things are big -- about 14 feet tall, weighing 44 tons, but for something their size, they really move.  They have to be fast because they have to get right next to a plane as it comes in down the runway and get right on top of any crash scene.

Once the big trucks get on site, they open up their big water canons.  The spray is controlled by joysticks inside the trucks, so firefighters can get right up next to a plane on fire without having to get out and possibly get burned.

Going from parked at the station to anywhere at the airport and spraying water takes them three minutes or less.  That's crucial because fire spreads so quickly on a plane -- something these firefighters dealt back in 1988 when a Southwest plane's landing gear caught fire.

"The rubber was on fire where the wheels had ground down..and the flames were lapping up above the wing..up high enough where the people inside could see the flames," said firefighter Mike Shrauner.

The team gets called out about three times a week for airline emergencies.  Just about every one of those planes gets down with no incident at all and that's just fine with the firefighters at Station 19.

"You hope you never see it. I hope I go through my whole career without seeing a crash..but on the same end, you've got to be prepared for it."

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