For specialist firefighters at BAE Systems’ busy runway, the ability to hone their skills using the most cutting-edge training technologies is key.
And the team of 25 firefighters at the Company’s own in-house fire service, based at Warton, Lancashire, is making use of the latest innovations at their purpose-built training facility near the site’s airstrip.
The site’s newly revamped high-tech Fire Ground Training Simulator replaces a previously used facility, which was both smaller and based on a hybrid of a civil aircraft and a Harrier jet.
Providing a rare glimpse inside the new facility, built to replicate the Company’s 146 airliner, station Watch Manager Kieran Merriman, said: “The simulator is allowing the team to undertake the latest training techniques and build the specialist skills needed to deal with any incident.”
Crews from the service are on standby during daily flights at Warton as well as test flights of some of the world’s most technologically advanced combat and training jets.
And while the Company’s aircraft, including Typhoon and Hawk, have an impeccable safety record, Mr Merriman says the new facility now ensures firefighters can access the most realistic on-site training possible should a real incident ever occur.
He said: “The new fire training simulator has been designed to provide the most realistic training environment possible for our firefighters.
“Having a facility on site allows the fire fighters to train to a high standard. This training ensures they are competent and prepared to work within the hazardous environments that they may encounter.
“The old facility was loosely based on a hybrid between a small civil aircraft and a Harrier. However, it was very small and didn’t accurately represent the type of aircraft that we encounter at Warton.
“The new facility has been constructed around the same fuselage dimensions as the 146 aircraft. Therefore we are providing our fire fighters with a training environment that is conducive to the largest type of aircraft that they are regularly likely to encounter.”
The facility allows firefighters to take on outside and inside fire scenarios which may be encountered on a runway. Sensors inside the facility also allow trainers to monitor the exposure of firefighters to heat, ensuring the area is as realistic but safe as possible.
In the external areas firefighters can tackle fires on replica engine fire and undercarriages as well as fuel leaks, using live fire.
Meanwhile, the internal side of the facility simulates a structural collapse in an aircraft, allowing them to practice search and rescue techniques and use thermal imaging technology in the most realistic surroundings possible.
The use of live fire – using kerosene lit with a pilot light – means firefighters can train in the kinds of fire, smoke and heat conditions they would encounter in a real emergency.
Mr Merriman, who led on the facility’s design, testing and installation, added: “Specialist training is required here in several significant areas. Specific to Warton, we train our firefighters around the military fast jets.
“The risks that ordinary firefighters face, broadly speaking, are known and well researched. A lot of what we do at Warton is cutting edge.
“The simulator here at Warton has been upgraded with the use of latest technology. This includes auto alarms that are connected to thermo-couples within the training simulator, which means that we can accurately monitor the exposure of our firefighters to the effects of heat, therefore providing a safe yet realistic and challenging environment.
“Additionally the four thermo-couples are linked into a computer that electronically records the internal temperatures. The use of Avtur (kerosene) as a fuel for burning is the most accurate and realistic available.”
The training facilities are not the only impressive piece of equipment crews at Warton use. The site’s fire service has a fleet of high-tech six-wheel drive Rosenbauer fire engines, which have off-road tyres designed to negotiate conditions at the end of the runway.
The 39 tonne vehicles can deliver 6,100 litres of water every minute. They can also carry 1,500 litres of foam and secondary media, including 225kg of dry powder.
Also recently completed is an off-road Argo Cat training area, ensuring firefighters can train on operation of their all-terrain Argo Cat vehicle and prepare their ability to handle the potentially difficult terrain which sits at either end of the Warton runway.
However, there are also many similarities between the crews at Warton and more ‘traditional’ fire services.
The team operates in four watches Monday to Friday and they are on duty at the same time from 7am until 8pm.
On Saturdays and Sundays they have one crew which is on duty from 7am to 8pm.
“We are a traditional service in that we will have a formal parade at 7am when everyone will have the crewing read out to them,” added Mr Merriman. “The guys will take the vehicles out every day and check all the levels, the tyres, water levels, oil and so on.
“It is then down to me to declare the scale of resources we need to provide to conduct flying that day. We will the go into our training period from 8am until 9.30am every day. It could be theoretical, such as lectures on aircraft or radiation for example, and we also do practical training on our fire ground.
“We have also got an ambulance, which is operated on a rota basis. We carry out daily checks on that and we respond to medical incidents and fire alarms across the site.
“We have 25 firefighters here and everyone is trained in emergency care. It is not quite to the same level as a paramedic but we are trained to respond to ‘red’ (emergency) incidents.
“When we are not doing those things, we have a lot of responsibility for fire safety around the site. It is a varied role.”
For more information, go to www.baesystems.com