Training for ARFF and industrial sectors – onshore and offshore

Published:  11 February, 2015

With 14 aviation rigs and six foam tenders the International Fire Training Centre in Durham Tees Valley Airport is well known in the ARFF world – but it is also gaining a strong reputation in the offshore, marine and industrial sectors. Business Operations Manager Gary Watson spoke with Jose Sanchez de Muniain about all the latest developments.

Why do ARFF firefighters travel to IFTC from overseas?

We welcome delegates from Vancouver, Tahiti, Hong Kong, Europe, Middle East and Africa. They travel a long distance for fire training because we have a fire ground 19 acres in size and 14 aviation rigs, as well as six foam aviation tenders. We offer authentic training, and they like that we burn gas and kerosene, which burns black smoke.

Most training facilities only have one rig, and if you only have one rig you are not being tested. If you use it too much, you get to know where all the trip hazards are etc. So many firefighters come to us for revalidation every four years, because we have the facilities to change things around.

We take on novices and equip them with the skills and a certificate of competence to work legally in any UK airport. And because the UK CAA is widely recognised around the world, some people come to us from other geographies. We can also take experienced firefighters and put them through some very demanding training scenarios.

What’s new in ARFF for IFTC?

A year ago this month we gained accreditation from the French civil aviation authority, so we can now deliver revalidation training to French airport fire fighters.  We’ve just had the first course of the year for guys from Beziers, Brest, and Bergerac.

Are there any major trends in terms of ARFF training?

Some of the major changes are to do with regulatory shifts. EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency; can now set the standards for Europe, and we have until the end of 2017 to gain compliance. While the UK exceeds that level of compliance at the moment, other European countries may have to review theirs.

The major change is that EASA is saying that an airport now just needs to demonstrate how it achieves an acceptable level of compliance. It used to be that to demonstrate the acceptable level of compliance you needed a CAA certificate from one of the five UK centres. Now you can go anywhere for your fire training, you just need to demonstrate that it’s to a level that’s acceptable to EASA.

While pluralism could be good, almost by definition it could also make it difficult to have a common standard. So airports are talking about how they are going to deal with that.

What other markets do you operate in?

We also diversify into oil and gas where we have relationship with Falk Safety Services, and we train personnel for skills acquisition and revalidation of competence – all OPITO accredited - prior to deployment to offshore platforms.

We also run JOIFF-accredited courses on the industrial side, and more recently we received accreditation from the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency to deliver the STCW95 basic training.

What are the main differences between the ARFF and industrial fire fighting markets?

The challenge that anybody has in the industrial stage is that in most cases there’s a different level of statutory obligation to train the firefighters – in some places it's more about good practice. There are different routes to get a statement of competence to be an industrial firefighter compared to the way you do to be an airport firefighter.

Industrial courses tend to be shorter too, two days instead of six weeks, and as such, people don’t want to travel too far. Saying that, we’ve carried out some for industrial firefighters in Algeria, but that is because they have built a landing strip next to the gas plant to increase security. They came to us because we could provide both sides of training.

Any recent major investments?

We’ve spent £200,000 ($350,000) on a new virtual reality suite for incident command training, including a number of virtual scenarios such as a civilian airport, chemical incidents and gas escapes. Physically it’s a room with blackout blinds and a huge screen. The incident commander can shout commands to four crew commanders sitting behind him in pods.

We’ve also spent £850,000 ($1.1m) on two new appliances for our aviation courses from Sides, and we’ve also just bought and installed a dry rig helideck. We’ve already got a helideck for fire training, but this one is to teach offshore workers safe helideck operations, such as how to land, fuel up etc.

We been investing on the industrial front and have bought a well head and a tank farm with a bund so we can train firefighters to contain a fire before it spreads to neighbouring tanks. We also have a chemical distribution plant rig to simulate chemical spills and casualty recovery.

How does the IFTC deal with runoff water?

The runoff water goes into an oil separator that skims off all the fuel, and we use that for dirty burn spill trays. The protein-based training foam goes into a reed bed where it is eaten up. We reuse about 95 percent of our water.

IFTC: Background

The International Fire Training Centre in Durham, North East of England, first opened its doors in 1981 as the official ARFF training centre for the UK Civil Aviation Authority. Since its acquisition by Serco in 1996 it has diversified into other areas including industrial fire fighting, offshore safety training and incident commander training. Today the IFTC estimates it retains around 85% of the ARFF training for the UK.

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