Build it yourself!

Unique confined space & fire training simulator in service at Gatwick

Published:  18 January, 2007

Working in confined spaces can be one of the most dangerous tasks undertaken by industry firefighters. Confined space hazards can include problems with the atmosphere due to poor ventilation, access problems and poor light.

Working in confined spaces can be one of the most dangerous tasks undertaken by industry firefighters. Confined space hazards can include problems with the atmosphere due to poor ventilation, access problems and poor light.
A confined space, by definition, may be difficult to get into or out of, particularly in an emergency, and may require specialist protective and access equipment.
Personnel entering such areas must have a well thought-out rescue plan, be properly-trained and equipped for every confined space mission. The Gatwick Fire Behaviour, BA and Multi-Training Facility has been designed to provide an ideal environment for exactly this kind of training.
Aiming for the New Year
Barry Alderslade, Station Manager for the BAA Airport Fire Service at Gatwick Airport, is a veteran firefighter, with 17 years of service at Heathrow and five in his current position. He is leading the Fire Behaviour project and has a great personal interest in the simulator development.
“By January 2007 our simulator at Gatwick will have been fully configured as a confined space trainer. We plan to set up elements of our Drager ‘Crawlcage’, which consists of sections of caged mazes, to enable our personnel to perform specific evolutions,” he comments.
“By setting up different crawling and climbing scenarios we help our airport firefighters to become more comfortable and confident in their BA and adept at carrying out safe technical operations under difficult conditions. This approach enables us to monitor and evaluate all the personnel taking part, in perfect safety.”
Configured out of 14 custom-built steel shipping containers by technicians from Graham Leney Ltd of Ottery St.Mary, Devon, Gatwick’s simulator is built over three levels, with multi-access points.
Explains Graham Leney: “We’re not just selling one product here. We can develop and build the unit to be as simple or as complicated as you like in a process which generally takes between 6 - 12 weeks.”
There are staircases, hatches, a Top Hatch for basement search procedures, ladder access points  - even roof voids can be configured into the structure. All this allows specific training for confined space entry and SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) and ladder & access drills.
“These kind of training scenarios are needed to hone various skills for co-ordinated attacks when extinguishing fires or carrying out search & rescue operations,” he explains.
“Here you can also train in PPV (Positive Pressure Ventilation), offensive and defensive, with a crib fire burning on each level. Yet the whole unit costs a quarter of the price of other commercial simulators.
“In fact, Graham Leney will also lease these units, bringing them well within the affordability range of even small brigades.”
Such is the success and interest in the units that Graham Leney is about to launch a new company dedicated to this project and Fire Behaviour products. The name of the company will be ‘Transitional Fire’ and is due to be launched early January 2007.
Special features
The new simulator effectively combines a FBT Demonstration flashover and fire attack simulator which allows firefighters to practice dealing with flashover and backdraughts in a realistic and safe environment.
Each level is fitted with a dry riser systemwhich replicates how firefighters get water to a terminal or a high-rise airport area. Everything is watched and recorded by a Squirrel Data Logger System and, during training sessions, continuous surveillance is provided by instructors using a thermal imaging camera.
“Our simulator is really a development of an idea from the Swedish Fire Brigades who were using modified shipping containers for backdraught, flashover and tactical ventilation training back in the early 1990s.
“We had great help from the Devon Fire & Rescue Service which currently has a two-storey simulator of its own, also built by Graham Leney’s team of fabricators and engineers,” explains Barry.
Special features of the trainer include sacrificial plates in the burn areas - the whole fire zone is designed to be easily unbolted and replaced once replacement is required - as well as high-fibre concrete developed to prevent spalling in the high temperatures.
“It’s a really rustic back-to-basics structure,” says Barry. “Fuel for fire and smoke is provided by a chipboard alternative, Stirling board. It burns and produces carbonaceous smoke which is more realistic for us than the artificial sort. We also use garden incinerators inside the structure burning hay/straw - so our smoke is again very realistic.”
Even before the launch of the new company word has started to spread resulting in a number of fire services in the UK and Ireland expressing an interest in acquiring a unit for themselves.  “We are expecting orders from two large fire services shortly so this is a very exciting time for us,” says Graham Leney.
“This project has really been a joint venture between Devon Fire & Rescue, BAA Gatwick and Graham Leney, and the results have been a great success.
“We anticipate that many other facilities will see that this maintenance-friendly and relatively-cheap simulator represents the way forward for training. We feel that amalgamating all our training functions in one structure is very efficient and cost-effective,” comments Barry.  y
More information? E-mail him at:

  • Operation Florian

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