On 26 May 2013 at 1512 Western Standard Time, the pilot of a Piper PA‑31, registered VH-KLS (KLS), taxied for departure from runway 32 at Port Hedland for a flight to Karratha, Western Australia. The pilot made the necessary common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) broadcast.
At about 1517, an aviation rescue and fire fighting (ARFF) vehicle that had been operating on the eastern side of the airport entered taxiway Bravo to return to the fire station on the western side. The crew made a CTAF broadcast at 1518, stating that they intended to cross runway 32 on taxiway Alpha. Hearing no response to the broadcast and seeing no aircraft on the runway, the crew crossed runway 32.
The pilot of KLS taxied onto the threshold of runway 32 and commenced the take-off roll. The pilot reported making the required CTAF broadcasts. At 1520, as KLS became airborne, the pilot observed the fire vehicle crossing the runway about 500 m ahead. As the aircraft was airborne, the pilot assessed the safest action was to continue the take-off and the aircraft passed over the intersection between runway 32 and taxiway Alpha between 300 and 400 ft above ground level. By the time KLS crossed the intersection the fire vehicle was clear of the runway.
The crew of the fire vehicle had not heard any CTAF broadcasts from KLS nor did they see the aircraft when they scanned the runway prior to crossing, possibly due to heat haze. The pilot of KLS had not heard the CTAF broadcast made by the fire vehicle.
As a result of this occurrence, the ARFF service provider has advised the ATSB that they will undertake two safety actions. They will release a national operational safety note advising ARFF operators of the efficient use of aviation radio communications when driving on an airfield. Additionally, they will undertake a comprehensive review of aviation radio coverage at Port Hedland as part of radio commissioning works. Any identified radio coverage deficiencies will be monitored by the service provider until resolution.