The aviation industry is very clear about its standards for safety, and airport fire departments know well the level of training they must achieve. What the regulations do not spell out, however, is how to ensure that training gets the team up to the standards. Strategic Fire Solutions offers specialist courses to develop the right skills and procedures quickly and cost-effectively.

Every airport fire department sees the same document that outlines the training requirements for firefighters. The Airport Services Manual Part 1 clearly defines the competencies that a team must achieve, but it does not specify how to do the training. This is where training specialists come into the picture, because they can match the training to the specific requirements of an airport and its personnel.

If we are designing an aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) programme for an Eastern European airport with ten firefighters, the training will not take the same formas it would for a larger international airport with 50 firefighters. While both airports would share similar goals and need firefighters to have similar skills, the way those skills are implemented will be very different, and the training programme must reflect that.

"Unlike municipal or other types of firefighting, ARFF requires in-depth knowledge of fire behaviour, aircraft construction and unique tactical operations," says Scot Young, senior fire instructor at Strategic Fire Solutions.

"A comprehensive knowledge of how fire moves through an aircraft allows ARFF firefighters to anticipate the challenges they will face when fighting fire on and around an aircraft.

"In order to use the understanding of fire behaviour, effectively extinguish fires and effect rescues, an ARFF firefighter has to understand aircraft construction principles and techniques. They have to contend with fuselage burn-through times and hazardous materials contained within the aircraft. Knowing how fire will advance through the aircraft will assist in determining how they attain their strategic goals and will determine what tactical operations they will perform.

"The main skills they need are physical fitness and stamina; the ability to deploy and move hose lines in order to isolate and insulate the aircraft during an incident; the ability to move around in a visually impaired, confined-space environment; knowledge of the proper techniques for extinguishing and ventilating aircraft; and mastery of techniques to perform physical rescues of passengers," he adds.

The standard problem

Strategic Fire Solutions is a German-US company, headquartered in Dresden, Germany, that manages and employs fire protection and emergency services professionals across the world. Its goal is to leverage its resources across its broad network to provide clients solutions based not only on best practices but also on each one’s unique needs.

"The biggest problem with how ARFF training is conducted is the lack of an international standard for ARFF fire and emergency services. Although countries like the US have an NFPA standard that dictates specific job performance requirements, knowledge and skills assessments, this is not the industry standard.

"ICAO and EASA have their own requirements, but there are no detailed standards or comprehensive guidelines for ARFF departments. This leads to large disparities in the abilities and competencies of ARFF fire services," Young explains.

"The need for initial certification and recurring refresher training has been very weakly defined by international agencies and national aviation authorities. This leads to a very large difference in the quality and frequency of training that is provided today.

"The biggest risk of ineffectual training is the cost to human lives. It could lead to injury or even death for firefighters, air crew, ground crew and passengers. The loss of one life due to a lack of competence is a risk that should not be accepted. With the numbers of people on board modern aircraft and the number of aircraft moving at any given time, the days of just ‘playing on a simulator’ and calling it training need to end," says Young.

Getting training right

Young firmly believes that ARFF training should have a clear structure and be as realistic as possible to prepare firefighters for the worst case scenario, and that is at the core of what Strategic Fire Solutions helps its clients achieve. It focuses on customising the training programme and constantly updating the curriculum.

"Training programmes that gloss over important topics do not lead to effective ARFF firefighters, who have to deal with the potential for massive loss of life. The fundamental knowledge and skills do not change based on the airport size, but it is important to tailor training to the specific needs of an airport to make it effective.

"We enable ARFF departments to conduct practical evaluations and exercises using the equipment they possess and their organisational structure. This strategy allows our clients and instructors to see their limitations and strengths," says Young.

"This allows ARFF departments to develop, implement and validate effective operational procedures and tactics. We tailor training programmes to meet international guidelines using the equipment and organisation an ARFF has.

"For instance, it provides no realistic benefit to tell an ARFF department to perform operations with 14 personnel when they only have seven on duty at any given time. The three major strategic goals of life safety, incident stabilisation and property conservation do not change in accordance with the size of a team. What does change is the amount of work the members of a small team must perform," he adds.

Airports need to ensure they do more than just tick the box on training. They need to ensure that their firefighting teams not only know the risks and have the skills, but can also deploy their knowledge and abilities in an effective way given the resources at their disposal.

The confidence of knowing the training is tailored to an airport’s needs will only come when it chooses a training provider that knows the industry inside out.