Passengers at McGhee Tyson Airport on Monday evening might have wondered why their planes were sharing a taxiway with a white school bus. 22 members of the FBI Knoxville Citizens Academy Alumni Association were inside the bus, which was taking us from the terminal to the police and fire building. The Airport Authority police are not the same as the TSA agents who screen passengers.
The highlight of our tour was the chance to see two Rosenbauer Panther 4X4 Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicles up close. The trucks carry tanks of water and of aqueous film-forming foam to spray on jet fuel fires. The two trucks that we saw were commissioned in 2010. Because of the vehicles’ massive tires and off-road capabilities, an older model of the firetruck was sent to help fight the Knoxville mulch fire in April.
During a 24-hour shift, the safety officers work eight hours as an airport police officer followed by eight hours as a firefighter. Each of them has some level of paramedic training too. Their flame-retardant suits are stored in such a way that they can unzip the red storage bags, step into their boots, pull up the pants and run to the trucks. They have to be able to reach the center of the runways less than three minutes after receiving an emergency call. In their last drill, they did it in just over 100 seconds.
Because they’re on the job for at least 24 hours straight and sometimes more, the officers have dorm rooms, day rooms, a kitchen, locker rooms and a workout facility. The kitchen has three refrigerators and food pantries, one for each shift.