KAHULUI - When firefighters train at Kahului Airport, it's hard not to notice.
From Paia to Upcountry and Central Maui, people can see a towering plume of black smoke rising from the Kanaha Beach Park side of the airport.
On Wednesday, as happens about once every three months, it was a training exercise. Three hundred gallons of jet fuel were pumped into a circular holding pond with a mock-up configuration of a jet fuselage.
Airport Training Drill
Then, wearing a heavy, silver fire "proximity suit," designed to reflect heat, airport fire Lt. Benjamin "Kappy" Kalama used a propane torch to ignite the fuel. He was supported by Capt. Robert Acantilado Jr.
Within seconds, the fire spread and soon engulfed the mock jet structure. Then it was fire equipment operator Jerry Freitas' turn to maneuver a fire-suppression truck into position and spray the jet with white, fire-retardant foam. Called "AFFF," the foam separates the fuel from oxygen and effectively smothers the fire.
Nearby, airport firefighters manned two other backup fire-suppressing trucks - just in case something went wrong.
Airport fire Lt. Benjamin “Kappy” Kalama (far left) walks away from a burning mock aircraft fuselage while Capt. Robert Acantilado Jr. turns to check on the flames during a training exercise Wednesday at Kahului Airport. Moments later, fire equipment operator Jerry Freitas maneuvered his fire-suppression truck into position and smothered the flames with fire-retardant foam.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Within seconds, Freitas, who was visiting from Lanai Airport, had knocked out the fire. On the ground and in the fuselage, all that remained was the white foam, which was left to dry out in the hot sun.
Acantilado said airport firefighters are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which requires them to put out at least one live fire per year to be recertified. Airport firefighters from Molokai, Lanai, Kapalua and elsewhere in the state come to the Kahului Airport mock jet facility for training.
The exercises are done about once every three months, he said.
FAA standards require airport firefighters to be able to respond to aircraft incidents within three minutes of the midpoint of the airport's runway, he said. Their job is to open and maintain evacuation paths for aircraft passengers and to put out 90 percent of the fire within 60 seconds.
Airport firefighters have a mutual aid agreement with the Maui Fire & Public Safety and Police departments, he said.
While their fire suits work well in protecting the men from flames, they're also hot to wear, especially in 80-degree weather. As the men took their suits off, they were drenched in perspiration.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.