Customer portraits header: Togehter we get things moving

Customer portrait: Frankfurt Airport

The neon-red All-Rounder

Everything from the latest Airbus 380 to hazardous materials, horses and snakes! The Fire Department on the enormous Frankfurt Airport site is only called when there's a real problem.

Hooklift Frankfurt Airport

Giant aircraft towering like flying skyscrapers, baggage vehicles criss-crossing everywhere, almost endless runways and hundreds of thousands of people every day: Frankfurt Airport is not a normal workplace. However, it is an everyday experience for the 300 women and men of the Fire Department with responsibility for these 24 square kilometres. The airport is like a small city, with 78,000 employees, almost 200,000 passengers and hundreds of aircraft being handled every day. The airport's Fire Department is the largest corporate fire service in all of Europe, tackling up to 5,500 sorties and deployments every year.

Things have to move fast when the siren begins to wail. The women and men of the Fire Department know what to do in these cases as they pull on their fireproof suits and black protective footwear. Together with a respirator, the entire equipment can weigh up to 30 kilograms. The giant fire fighting vehicles only have 180 seconds to get to the location of the emergency. The sorties are extremely varied, explains Detlef Kraft: “Most of them involve fires and technical assistance, including oil spills if vehicles are damaged. And, of course, we have to respond to every fire alarm. But nine out of ten of these are false alarms.” If the alarm involves an aircraft, everybody has to respond. The team is, on average, on the move fifteen times a day.

One of the most dangerous sorties was in 2004, when a tanker carrying 30,000 litres of fuel was involved in an accident on the adjacent A3 motorway. The emergency services on the scene requested the help of their colleagues from the airport, as they were finding it impossible on their own to get the flames under control with the required speed. But the powerful fire fighting vehicles of the Airport Fire Services were soon on hand to help. Detlef Kraft stills feels a sense of pride when he relates what happened: “Our colleagues arrived with a large fire fighting vehicle complete with tanker trailer, and within minutes they had extinguished the blaze. Our vehicles are optimised precisely for this kind of mission, with the tank sizes, pump and extinguishing arm perfectly coordinated to suit each other.”

The smallest lamps can trigger an alarm

The neon-red rescue vehicles are also called out if lifts get stuck and people are stranded in them. These are routine operations for the team. They have also experienced bomb threats where the entire Fire Department was deployed. They never know in advance whether a call will only be a harmless incident or something rather more serious, says Detlef Kraft. There are, however, no emergency landings. These are called precautionary landings here. Even the smallest of lamps can trigger an alarm: the smell of smoke in the aircraft galley, doubtful locking of the landing gear or a crack in the cockpit windscreen. “These are all situations where the pilot must announce a precautionary landing, because safety has the highest priority in aviation,” explains Detlef Kraft. “Then our people get moving, travelling beside the aircraft and contacting the pilot.” In most cases they return fairly quickly to the depot again, because nothing has happened. Sometimes they purposely visit the plane and take a look at the problem themselves to improve their knowledge and understanding of such situations.

The Fire Department as a service provider

The Fire Department is never far away if others have run out of ideas or are too poorly equipped to tackle the situation. A large tank needs to be lifted out of the ground floor of a water treatment plant on the airport site. The Fire Department regards operations like this as a friendly favour. The MEILLER crane on the fire fighting vehicle swings into action.

MEILLER is represented in the Fire Department through its hooklifts and loading cranes. This equipment is provided exclusively by MEILLER. In addition, the Fire Department also has a few container transport trailers. The Airport Fire Services have placed their trust in MEILLER products for many years. MEILLER hooklifts are particularly important for moving the 75 containers belonging to the Fire Department, many of which are special containers. One of these is specially designed for hazardous materials, another for rescuing animals. The load handling system thus ensures that the airport Fire Department remains extremely flexible, lifting any of the variety of containers used onto its vehicles as the need arises. Rudolf Moses is responsible for vehicles and engineering in the Fire Department. And his opinion with regard to MEILLER products? “If it burns, they've got to work. And to date they've never let us down.”

Five fire fighters are involved in providing the friendly favour in the water treatment plant. While one of these guides the powerful vehicle into the hall, another specialist controls the crane. This is really precision work, and just a single false movement of the joystick could result in a very expensive accident.

They have never experienced any problems with MEILLER products, an unblemished record to which reliable customer service also contributes. Two MEILLER service technicians visit the airport every year and subject equipment to a root and branch inspection lasting three to four days. They service the units and check every screw thoroughly. The Fire Department has its own automotive mechanics, but the know-how and experience of the MEILLER people is valued highly.

The MEILLER crane slowly deposits the giant component on the floor in the water treatment plant. In the final analysis, everything works like clockwork. Once again, the Fire Department has successfully provided a service with no incidents. Commenting on this, Rudolf Moses adds: “People need to function, but the machine has to function as well.”

“An alarm can be raised at any time”

However, if people are to function, they need to be ready for anything in the Airport Fire Services. The men and women on standby are on duty for 24 hours, and they never know in the morning what the day might bring. It's not easy to relax in this atmosphere, says Alexander Jung, a veteran of 20 years: “Nobody sleeps here. You simply rest. We are always aware that an alarm can be raised at any time. The smallest noise, and you're immediately wide awake.” Despite a quiet relaxation room and even beds, Alexander Jung says he is often exhausted when he goes home in the morning, even if they have only been called out a few times.

It's a tough job, both physically and mentally. A sport scientist comes by once a week and puts the men and women through circuit training, relates Rudolf Moses: “Well, as a fireman, I need to take care of my health and keep fit.” Respiratory protection training also needs to be practised on a regular basis, and this involves crawling through a cage- like labyrinth in full kit, naturally enough in intense heat. Anybody who fails to get through this places a big question mark over their fitness for the job. Retirement is normally only possible at 65 or 67 years of age, as the firemen and women at the airport are not public sector workers, but normal employees of Fraport AG.

A job full of risks

Detlef Kraft has experienced a lot of things, including flooding, toxic substances, viruses or even radioactive material – a very broad range of incidents. The Fire Department also includes real specialists among its ranks. Some have even completed animal rescue training. Detlef Kraft relates: “We've been called out to search for wild boar and to catch dogs that have escaped and run away. After all, animals are being loaded onto aircraft here every day, and every so often one of them makes a run for it. We've even had to deal with snakes and horses in the past. No matter what happens, the Fire Department is the place to call when danger arises.”

The siren begins to sound as he is still speaking. Men are rushing past at breakneck speed. They spring on board the giant bright-red vehicles and head off to tackle an emergency of an uncertain nature. The 1400 hp giants race out towards the runway.

Learn more about the products:

MEILLER Hooklifts