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June 23, 2022

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June is National Safety Month, and ABE is spotlighting the ARFF Department – one of the Airport’s best resources to keep everyone safe while working at or visiting the Airport.


What is ARFF at ABE?

All US airports that have scheduled service with passenger air carrier (commercial service) aircraft are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to have Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) services, and ABE is no exception.

Located on the north side of the airfield, across from the terminal complex, the ARFF station houses all of the necessary rescue and firefighting apparatus and extinguishing agents, which includes four response vehicles (2 primary / 2 reserve), three support vehicles, and the on-duty ARFF personnel.  Chief John Demyan currently leads six full-time and six part-time staff who take shifts (2 days / 2 nights on and 2 days off) to keep the ARFF Department running 24 / 7 for all 365 days of the year.


Fortunately, major fires at ABE are a rare occurrence, so how does Chief Demyan and his ARFF crew keep ABE safe?

Training and readiness.

“We’re out training every day,” Chief Demyan said.  “There’s a check we do, a road and pump test.  Every day we go out to check the equipment and water flow to make sure we are ready if anything should happen.”

Another way ARFF and other first responder teams at ABE ensure the safety of the Airport is to hold a full-scale disaster exercise of the Airport Emergency Plan, required by the FAA to be performed every three years.  “Originally it was just me and Tom running them,” Chief Demyan noted, referring to LNAA Executive Director Tom Stoudt, who was the Director of Operations & Safety at the time.  “Then as more people joined the team and the Airport expanded, it grew into a committee to cover all of the various Airport departments and functions of our mutual aid responders, so the new members were added to the exercise planning team at the local, state, and federal levels.”

These exercises are a simulated emergency scenario with volunteers (usually from the Airport staff) playing victims for the first responder teams to rescue.  It’s an experience that gives everyone a better idea of how vital departments like ARFF are to the safety of ABE. (Read about the most recent exercise held in April 2021 here.)

ABE’s ARFF Department also assists the Han-Le-Co Fire Department with serious local calls if needed, but there was a time when it was the local fire department that answered calls for ABE.  Chief Demyan found a logbook from 1967 that makes note of the Bethlehem Fire Department being the only resource for ABE.  “But around 1970, we had our own full-time department at the Airport.”


ARFF gets the job done.

The ARFF Department at ABE responds to hundreds of calls each year.  The Airport experiences activity around the clock and so it is important for ABE to have our ARFF team available to answer calls for emergency assistance around the clock.  The calls range from aircraft emergencies and hazardous materials spills to emergency medical service and fire calls.

The ABE ARFF team is made up of highly trained and dedicated fire professionals who bring a wealth of combined experience.  There is a greater emphasis on training for airport firefighters given the additional complexities of operating in an airport environment.  Many of our firefighters are certified trainers and our ARFF team puts that to good use by offering training to our Airport Authority employees and even our tenants at ABE on topics such as First Aid, CPR / AED training, and fire extinguisher training.

Lieutenant Patrick Barnes, who has been with the Airport for 20 years and teaching for 10, is also the EMS Coordinator.  He is passionate about making sure people are properly trained because “early, effective CPR saves lives.”  A simple statement that is a proven fact.

“Our goal is to train as many people as we can,” said Chief Demyan.  “It’s all about time. Every second counts.  The quicker someone with training can be on the scene, the better the chances of a good outcome.”

While the focus is always on safety and having zero incidents at ABE, it is reassuring to know we have a highly capable ARFF Department at the Airport who stand ready to answer the call.

This National Safety Month, take a tip from Chief Demyan about having basic safety training: “Time is critical in an emergency – so even a little bit of understanding is far better than no understanding at all.”


According to a 1939 issue of The Morning Call, Bethlehem was the first city in the nation to own a fire truck. It was built in England in the 1690’s and delivered to Bethlehem in 1753. It was called “Perseverance.”