Airport safety questioned by former employee
It seems the Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH) is a magnet for trouble. As the Town of Mammoth Lakes continues to deal with the Hot Creek litigation (Town Council met in closed session Wednesday night to discuss the status of the case, but according to Mayor Skip Harvey there was no reportable action), a new set of waves is slapping the transportation hub in the face.
Former airport employee, Doug Kriese has notified the Federal Aviation Administration of safety regulation violations he says he witnessed at the airport during his tenure there from October 2009 through Jan. 23, 2011.
Kriese explained to The Sheet, “I am not a disgruntled employee; I am just trying to tell the truth about what has been going on at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport.”
Kriese was terminated on Jan. 23 and his official paperwork claims it was because he had failed to complete his probationary period, although he questions the validity of this excuse.
Ian Gregor, Public Affairs Manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division, confirmed that the FAA is indeed currently conducting an investigation at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport. However, since the investigation is ongoing, he was unable to comment on what it entailed.
Brian Picken, Assistant Airport and Transportation Director for the Town of Mammoth also confirmed that an investigation was underway at the airport.
“We let an employee go and that person has gone to the FAA, the TSA and the manufacturer of the fire truck filing allegations that are untrue,” Picken said, referring indirectly to Kriese.
The investigation includes, at the very least, a focus on an alleged breach of FAA safety regulations section 139, which deal with aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment. Kriese alleged that after the airport’s annual burn exercise in early December 2010, the AFFF, or aqueous film-forming foam used for fire suppression, in the airport’s rescue vehicle was completely emptied. When Kriese went to refill the tank, he found that there was only enough left to fill it 20 percent. He claimed that he notified his superior, Airport and Transportation Director Bill Manning, who then ordered 100 gallons of the necessary foam.
The delivery time, however, was one week, which meant that the airport would go an entire week without this fire suppressant at adequate levels. Kriese said he had suggested they go to Fire Station #1 in Mammoth and borrow some AFFF. Then, when the new foam arrived, they could replace what they had borrowed from the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department.
In an e-mail attachment, Kriese quoted Manning as having said in response, “If we do that, we’ll look stupid down here. We don’t want to look stupid. Let’s just hope nothing happens and nobody finds out.”[At press time Manning had not returned The Sheet’s phone call.]
The foam ended up taking three weeks to arrive because it became lost in the mail. Upon arrival it took another two weeks to be poured into the firefighting equipment.
“They should have at least notified the air carrier so they could decide whether or not to land,” Kriese explained.
According to FAA regulations for the size of planes at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, there must be one vehicle “carrying at least 500 pounds of sodium-based dry chemical, halon 1211, or clean agent; or 450 pounds of potassium-based dry chemical and water with a commensurate quantity of AFFF to total 100 gallons for simultaneous dry chemical and AFFF application.” As well as another vehicle “carrying an amount of water and the commensurate quantity of AFFF so the total quantity of water for foam production carried by both vehicles is at least 1,500 gallons.”
The regulations also state: “In addition to the quantity of water required, each vehicle required to carry AFFF must carry AFFF in an appropriate amount to mix with twice the water required to be carried by the vehicle.”
Lastly, the regulations explain that the rescue and firefighting capability described above must be provided on the airport, during air carrier operations, with very few exceptions.
Picken claimed that the investigation, being conducted by FAA investigator Jake Florendo, was wrapping up this week, but did not know what the repercussions would be if the FAA confirmed that the airport had indeed violated safety regulations. Some people have speculated that the airport would be fined.
Gregor stated that the results of the investigation would be available in a few weeks.