Miquel Moita is a fire instructor with the Portuguese Air Force.

Afghan ARFF personnel in transition

Published:  23 November, 2012

The ARFF Services of Afghanistan's airports and airfields have been controlled by foreign military or civilian personnel since 2001 – but that’s all about to change, writes Miquel Moita.

The first step for the transition plan concerns the main airport in Afghanistan: KAIA – Kabul Afghanistan International Airport (ICAO: OAKB). Located in the eastern part of the country, KAIA is a heavily used airport with more than 100,000 flight movements per year. Within its perimeter, KAIA aggregates the international civilian terminal, an ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) military complex lodging almost 6.000 personnel; the Intermediate Joint Command Headquarters; and a complex for the Afghan Air Force. With all these entities operating both civilian and military aircrafts, and with the airport containing buildings for logistics, weapons storage, and maintenance support amongst others, KAIA represents a great challenge for any firefighter. To make things a little more puzzling, at KAIA you find three fire stations: the north-KAIA FD, run by NATO, the south-KAIA FD, directed by MoTCA (Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation) and a Military FD that operates in an apron used by the Afghan Air Force.

The multi-national north-KAIA FD counts 18 ICC (International Civilian Consultants) and 50 LCH (Local Civilian Hires) working in three shifts. The station is equipped with a fleet able to respond to any kind of emergency. The state-of-the-art Rosenbauer Panther 6x6 CA-5 is the 'crown jewel', with its 12,500 litres of water, 1,500 litres of B class AFFF, 250 kg of DCP and an R600 double-stage high-performance pump, with an output of 6,200 lpm at 11 bar. This truck is powered by a C-18 Caterpillar engine with a performance of 518 kW at 2,300 rpm. The Panther really is a top-notch fire appliance and, in KAIA, three E-One 6x6 trucks back this vehicle up.

To respond to structural fires, the department owns two trucks equipped by Ziegler. With the type of dangers that KAIA faces a hazardous materials truck is essential, and for that kind of response there is a fully equipped HazMat vehicle. A Ford F450 Super Duty command vehicle and a handful of support vans and jeeps complete the fleet.

On the south side of KAIA, the MoTCA FD is undergoing massive works, with a new station projected for next year.  For now it is has an old building that was used by the military when it were stationed in that part of KAIA, and a fleet that comprises a Rosenbauer Panther CA-5 6x6 (similar to the north-side truck), three Rosenbauer Panther DD-1, an OSHKOSH T1500 – the T1500 and the DD-1 trucks will soon be replaced by brand new Rosenbauer apparatus – and a command SUV. The stations houses 40 firefighters, all Afghans, but most of them are not certified or don’t have the minimum level of proficiency required to work in an international airport. Because of this, all the fire related operations are ensured by the north-KAIA FD.

When the transition plan was in its initial stages the aim was simple: to train the firefighters from the south fire station and provide them with the know-how to run the airport safely in the future. But the question arose: where would this training be carried out? The answer came naturally, with all their experience in training and maintaining Afghan FF knowledge and proficiency, the north-side station was the best choice. The challenge was to train the crews in four types of courses – refresher, basic, crew manager and watch manager – and run them in parallel with them being operational in a fire station. What a challenge this was! To achieve this goal international help was required, so NATO asked its members to contribute. Portugal answered the call and sent six firefighters from their Air Force (PRT AF) with years of experience in ARFF and as fire instructors.

In March 2012 the Portuguese instructor team arrived at KAIA, and the transition plan started a month later with two refresher courses running almost at the same time. These courses, planned for an eight-week period each, were attended by 26 students. All of them had already attended the Fire & Safety Engineering College (a division of International College of Engineering & Management, Oman), where they received their FCRS diploma. However, the passing of time, the lack of revalidation, and the non-existent work for the south-KAIA fire station, made it necessary for them to join the refresher course. The program, lasting eight weeks, covered multiple subjects, including: chemistry of fire, hydraulics, media, communications, structural and aircraft firefighting techniques, forcible entry, hazardous materials, and fist aid amongst others.

The airport has a fire ground with training rigs that enable the FD to perform live fire drills in domestic and aircraft environments. These structures were used to perform a wide range of training during the last two weeks of the course. These manoeuvres pushed the students to the maximum while testing their recently acquired tactics and techniques.

In July a big graduation ceremony took place at the north-KAIA FD. The 26 refresher course students received their certificates and were considered qualified for on-the-job training. The OJT is scheduled to start in the last quarter of 2012 and it will be carried out in cooperation with the two KAIA fire stations and with the help of the new rotation of PRT Air Force firefighters.

During Ramadan the transition plan halted. The lack of hydration by the part of the students, the unforgiving Afghanistan summer and the need to take care of the logistics for what was to come made it necessary to stop for a month. In the end of August the basic course started with 16 students with little or no firefighting experience, but the students were highly motivated. The syllabus for this course was based on the refresher cources, but with a larger emphasis on drills, with a reinforced component of first aid and the inclusion of extrication and 'rapid intervention team' techniques.

The transition plan still has a long way to go, over the coming year north-KAIA FD will impliment more basic, crew manager and watch manager courses. This project doesn’t end in Kabul. In a couple of years KAIA will receive and train firefighters from the other major Afghan airports: Herat (OAHR), Mazar-i-Sharif (OAMS) and Kandahar (OAKN). This training programme will be filled with the students who have attended the school in Oman, and who have received ICAO recognised certificates.

  • Operation Florian

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