Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:

The Federal Aviation Administration notified the City of Chicago in late July about a probe into allegations of unqualified Chicago Fire Department personnel manning ARFF apparatus at O’Hare and Midway airports. FAA regulations state that the specialized airport crews should have an internal training program which is used to initially qualify an operator, as well as continuation training to maintain and re-qualify.

The FAA requested a list of fire department personnel who were qualified to work the airport vehicles between the dates of May 1 and July 25, as well as a list of personnel assignments with their vehicle numbers for each shift over that same period. The federal agency also asked for details of the additional procedures instituted by the Department of Aviation after it was notified of the allegations, and gave the city 10 days to provide any additional information deemed relevant.

As part of its investigation, the FAA asked whether the Department of Aviation identified personnel assigned to an airport rig who weren’t qualified for aircraft rescue and firefighting, whether the Aviation Department communicated that to the fire department, and what action the two city departments took to correct the discrepancies. The city could face discipline from the FAA for any findings of wrongdoings, including potential fines. In severe cases of an airport failing to meet FAA requirements, its ability to operate could be suspended or areas of an airport could be shut down.

The letter from the FAA does not make clear how the investigation originated, whether from information provided to the agency or uncovered during a standard Part 139 audit of airport operations. Part 139 is the FAA’s certification for airports that sets forth, among other things, standards for firefighting and rescue capabilities. Regular inspections to maintain the certification can include timed-response and live-fire drills; reviews of personnel and training records; and checks of specialized equipment.

FAA regulations leave the implementation of training programs to fire and rescue departments that operate the vehicles, but offer some guidance. The agency calls for designated training officers, recertification at least every year, and for personnel to be trained from each operating seat of the extendable turret.