By the time they did arrive at around 7:40 p.m., the highway section had just collapsed minutes earlier.
“We had just turned off on Piedmont Road HOV when we heard on the radio communication that it had just collapsed,” said battalion chief Michael Blackwell.
While water sprayed from regular fire trucks can help cool down a fire, the 420 gallons of foam carried by each Atlanta airport truck can kill a fire by starving it of oxygen, according to firefighters.
“Foam actually blankets the fire and starts to take the oxygen away,” said Frederick Reid, one of the six airport firefighters who responded to the scene.
“It will take a long time for the fire to die down with straight water,” said airport fire training captain Eric Kave. “Once we switch to foam, it’s like night and day.”
The airport holds live burn exercises every Thursday through much of the year, allowing airport firefighters to train on putting out fires to fulfill and exceed Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
That’s what causes a black column of smoke rising into the sky near the airport, a sight familiar to many who live or work around Hartsfield-Jackson but that can be jarring to others.
A column of smoke rises into the sky during a live burn training exercise at the Atlanta airport fire training center next to Hartsfield-Jackson International. The airport holds weekly live burn exercises through much of the year.
The Atlanta airport fire training center also hosts training for other firefighter units from other jurisdictions and from around the world.
Airport firefighters at each of Hartsfield-Jackson’s five fire stations practice during drills of live burns using jet fuel that generates heat similar to that emitted by the I-85 fire.
Firefighters practice putting out fires using foam at Hartsfield-Jackson's fire training center.
The spools of plastic and fiberglass conduit that caught fire in the I-85 fire burned so hot that the bridge they were stored under collapsed.
"Plastics burn pretty hot," Blackwell said.
Smoke billows from a section of an overpass that collapsed from a large fire on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, Thursday, March 30, 2017. Atlanta officials say a massive fire that burned for more than an hour caused the collapse of the interstate overpass. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has issued a state of emergency for the county. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Credit: David Goldman
Credit: David Goldman
City fire trucks may hold about 20 gallons of foam, while airport fire trucks have more than 20 times that amount. Each gallon of aqueous film-forming foam costs about $2.26 a gallon, and each of the airport’s 10 fire trucks carries nearly $1,000 worth of foam.
Most of the job of airport firefighters involves hazardous materials, emergency medical calls and standing by for some aircraft landings as a precaution.
But Hartsfield-Jackson firefighters have helped other jurisdictions before, such as on landfill fires or chemical plant fires. They also respond to overturned fuel tankers, spraying foam to keep vapors down.
“We all want to go out and do as much as we can to help our comrades,” Blackwell said.