Realistic training for tunnel fires

Published:  14 November, 2014

Starting next year firefighters can train under realistic conditions in a subway fire simulator at the Hamburg Fire Brigade Academy, writes Nils Schiffhauer.

Hamburg’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn (subway and suburban railway systems) carry well above 450 million passengers a year to and from over 150 stations and stops.

However, one of these stations is unlike the rest: the one on the training grounds of Hamburg’s Fire Brigade Academy.

“According to the information we have, we are building the world’s first subway and suburban railway station in the form of a realistic fire simulation set-up,” says Ingo Sandmann, project manager at Dräger, who, in a joint venture with Bremen-based building company Kathmann, won the tender for building the training facility.

By the beginning of 2015 there will be a subway and an S-Bahn (suburban train) on the new training station in Hamburg with barrier-free entry. “To arrange this we will first have to remove the existing tracks and lay them down again at different heights,” says project manager Sandmann.

Each of the trains will be given a driver’s cab with a communication system that replicates ordinary trains. There will be benches and billboards on the platform, and the obligatory kiosk tucked away in one corner of the station, as well as steps leading up and down. All in all, a typical subway or suburban railway station.

When fire simulation begins, the people undertaking the training will be surprised by how quickly the flames spread around them and shoot up out of the seats. Not to mention the smouldering fires coming from trash cans, swirling through the cars and obscuring the field of view.

Propane gas, which is relatively harmless to the environment when it burns, comes from a 2.8 ton tank; a piping system connects to fire points resembling the burners on a gas stove. These burners can be switched off by the operations manager immediately, either by remote control or using emergency switches. This feature quickly and automatically removes the smoke from the facility and lights it up so that trainees can quickly see their way around again.

Flange fires and leakages

Safety includes a complete control system in the control room, as well as constant monitoring of the facility using video and heat-sensing cameras.

The 54-meter-long station concourse is, like most of the city of Hamburg itself, built upon pillars penetrating up to 15 meters into the ground. The new structures will include the platform, a crawling tunnel, and extinguishing water extraction pipes to a cistern. “The existing railcars on the training premises at the Fire Brigade Academy had fallen victim to vandalism,” recalls Ingo Sandmann, “which is why the new concourse will be built as a galvanized steel structure incorporating trapezoidal sheet metal cladding, and including insulation and heat-resistant materials.”

An emergency exit and concourse gates connect to a tunnel system that opens the way to future extensions – which could include coupling systems to move the trains.

Hamburg, however, is not just a transport hub - it is also an industrial location. That is why two refinery columns used previously for altitude training have now been converted for fire simulation purposes. This will soon be where widespread fires can be lit, pumps and flanges set on fire, and leakages of water and compressed air produced. Extinguishing alone is not enough: “Trainees have to gain a picture of the facility and begin by shutting off the leak using valves before they can begin extinguishing,” says Ingo Sandmann. Certain parts of the facility are cooled during the simulation using collected rainwater – which is plentiful in Hamburg. But the best thing of all is that this simulator enables the facility to run a sophisticated training course encompassing two additional and very difficult scenarios, explains Bernd Herrenkind, Director of Hamburg Fire Brigade Academy. By doing so they will be protecting the 450-million-plus passengers of the city.

  • Operation Florian

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