Barry Alderslade, Deputy Airport Fire manager at London Gatwick Airport.

Top of the game for Gatwick Fire

Published:  19 November, 2014

In the spotlight – exclusive interview: Fire and Rescue speaks with Barry Alderslade, Deputy Airport Fire manager at London Gatwick Airport, about life at the sharp end.

What are the main challenges faced at Gatwick Fire and Rescue?

We are a first strike service. For protracted incidents we rely heavily on our supporting services – fire, ambulance, HART [Hazardous Area Response Team] and police. Trying to keep abreast of how that support is going to look like in the future is a challenge with our ongoing modernisation.

What is the most severe incident that Gatwick FRS has attended recently, and how was it dealt with?

Although not life threatening, the floods at the beginning of the year took everybody by surprise. One of our main runway electrical substations was submerged under water, and because the runway lighting is so risk critical they have been designed not to trip out – you don’t want an Airbus 380 on finals for landing and then the lights go out. Pumping the station out was a priority, so trying to do the Risk Assessments when nobody was sure what was live or not, coupled with the fire strikes, was very challenging. We now have our own high volume pumps along with an enhanced water rescue capability which provides us with extra resilience. 

What type of internal firefighting strategies do you employ and why?

Internal fires in some of the older aircraft will have burnt through within 2-3 minutes, they are far safer to fight for fire crews and for passengers to evacuate with all the hot gases escaping in a ventilated fire. Modern aircraft, however, have a high proportion of new generation GLARE [Glass Laminate Aluminium Reinforced Epoxy] composite material in their make-up. Burn through takes a lot longer >20 minutes. A prime example was the Dreamliner incident at Heathrow, where very high temperatures in very difficult conditions presented a prime compartment fire with all its associated risks. All our crews have a very high level of fire behaviour training and awareness, and we have quick-attack hose reels that deliver 220 litres at the branch, full large output PPV capability along with the only rescue stairs in the UK, which provides a safe stable platform for crews to work on any plane including an Airbus 380.

We also use Stat X and DSPA-5, which are basically portable ‘hand grenade’ volumetric fire suppressants – another tool in the box.

What are the best vehicles in your fleet?

We are very lucky, all our equipment is 'top notch'. We have six Panthers and an HRET [High Reach Extendable Turret] capability, rescue stairs, a SuperVac SU-50 large output PPV fan, CAFS, domestic ladders and rescue pumps, along with command vehicles. We also have an all-terrain trailer. Really simple but – with a tractor towing it – that trailer can get to almost anywhere, delivering equipment and crews to the scene and, more importantly, it will transport casualties back to a hard standing. To the west of Gatwick we have some very muddy fields. I love the SuperVac PPV – some people think I was whacky getting it but it’s the future, honest!


How are Gatwick Fire and Rescue staff trained, and what type of training takes the priority? 

We have a full in-house compliant maintenance of skills and competence  programme along with being a CAA-approved training provider. Each watch has a full range of instructors including Aviation, Compartment Fire Behaviour, Breathing Apparatus, Tactical Ventilation, Trauma First Aid, Emergency Response Driving, Physical Training, and Road Traffic Collision Instructors. All the instructors attend CPD [Continued Professional Development] and standardisation meetings to remain competent and keep at the top of their game.

We have great relations with other emergencies services local as well as international, which is great for knowledge sharing. Being a first-strike service we ensure the crews prioritise the first five minutes of an incident. Frequent training is the key – get the basics right, there is no time to get it wrong on the real thing.

Why should firefighters come to train at Gatwick Fire?

We truly have a world-class training facility, with access to some of the very best instructors available, and with our partner training providers we can cover almost all requirements.

We recently completed a 12-week training course for a Middle East client in collaboration with Surrey FRS and Alpha Safety. Training was as diverse as the BA, CFBT, Swift Water Rescue 3, Powerboat 2, high rope access, confined space disciplines. It was very challenging on the logistics but it was great fun. Furthermore, we are only 30 minutes from Central London and we can provide top quality accommodation in the Gatwick Hilton.

How does the experience gained at Gatwick FRS and other rescue services influence your training courses?

We mix with such a diverse set of people and organisations – including our – ongoing work with London Fire Brigade.  Recently, we were training firefighters from Athens, Greece and we have had the Guernsey local authority firefighters here for training.

Everybody brings something to the party – knowledge sharing is so important and working together to do the very best job we can is our main aim.


What type of training can international students follow at Gatwick Fire?

We pride ourselves at providing bespoke training, and we can tailor anything while being a cost-effective delivery solution. For example, we use XVR – a virtual training platform created by Dutch company Esemble – for our command training. The training team can take this anywhere in the world to deliver training and assessments.

The future of training delivery needs to be a lot smarter but delivered to a high standard, and this is exactly what we strive to do.

What is the single most important lesson a new recruit firefighter should learn and what is the one an experienced firefighter should always remember?

Someone once told me: ‘At any incident, it is going to the worst day of somebody’s life. The very least they should expect from us is that we do our very best to help them’. You can have the very best processes, SIPS, SOPS in place but it means nothing if you can’t deliver at the sharp end.

What type of rigs and training props do you have at the fire training school?

Our fire training ground features a full-size 747 Hybrid aircraft simulator, a multi-level carbonaceous ‘villa’ unit, a full range of fire behaviour simulators, MD-80 aircraft, XVR Incident Command simulator, an RTC compound, a method of entry rig, a confined space training rig, and working-at-height props. We also use shared facilities at Surrey FRS Training Centre at Wray Park, in Reigate.

What is the single most important ARFF training development you can foresee for the near future?

The San Francisco Asiana incident is a good example of how aircraft training props will need to include debris trail along with casualty props and body-parts props. Internally, the layout should simulate the mess a crash incident will be in reality.  We just need to become as realistic as possible with an efficient incident command system in place.

With numbers being cut in fire services all around the world it is extremely important that the few resources and people we have are all used to their full potential.

What next for Gatwick Fire?

 I cannot say too much, but in the near future we will be announcing a very exciting collaboration, which will set us apart from all the competition. Watch this space!


  • Operation Florian

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