AFOA annual conference highlights

Published:  11 March, 2016

The Airport Fire Officers Association’s annual conference that took place in January was declared an enormous success by delegates and exhibitors alike. The speakers came from very different backgrounds but they all had highly relevant messages for both airport and municipal fire services. Ann-Marie Knegt reports on the conference's highlights in the first of a two-part series.

One year ago AFOA’s annual event was again planned for the Radisson Blue Hotel at Dublin Airport but an unprecedented growth in delegate and exhibitor numbers meant it had to move to the larger conference rooms of the Hilton at London Gatwick Airport.

AFOA Chairman Barry Alderslade said: ‘None of us could have imagined this when we first started. It is great to see that there is such dedication and that people are so keen to learn within the airport fire industry in the UK and further afield. Even here, at the Hilton at Gatwick, we are already close reaching our maximum numbers.’ He extended his thanks to the sponsors of the event, with the main sponsors being Terberg DTS and Emergency Response Driver Training.

Alderslade then introduced the keynote speaker of the event, CFO Russell Pearson of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service.

Global trends and developments

CFO Russell Pearson of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service explained how Surrey FRS determined its business and operational strategy by predicting the shape of things to come.

Pearson highlighted a document that was issued by the Ministry of Defence called Global Strategic Trends published by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre. This document provides a strategic context for policymakers. It identifies global developments, threats and opportunities up to 2045 and CFO Pearson said it had proved incredibly useful to him in determining policy for Surrey FRS.

‘Many predictions made in this document have already come true, including predictions about a refugee crisis, religious wars and other current topics,’ he said.

‘We now have seven billion people on this planet but by 2045 it could be anything between 8 and 10.4 billion. Gender balance is also featured here along with the prediction that by then, 70% of the population will live in cities.’

The most important topics for the fire service were highlighted, including climate change, the uneven distribution of water, transport and automation. One of the key predictions in the report is that emergency services will need to merge more or less into one response and mitigation service that will be managed by advanced business streamlining software systems.

(Global Strategic Trends can be downloaded via the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-strategic-trends-out-to-2045.)

German Wings crash

On 24 March 2015, German Wings Flight 4U9525 crashed into the side of a mountain. An Incident Coordination Centre (ICC) was set up and Dusseldorf Airport’s Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Daniel Buscher, was appointed on-scene commander. He told the conference how his incident management team handled the aftermath of the tragic crash and of the lessons they learned.

Flight 4U9525 was travelling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, when the co-pilot locked the captain out of the cockpit and crashed the aircraft into the side of a mountain in the Alps at the speed of 180 knots. It was later discovered that the co-pilot suffered from severe mental health issues which he had hidden from healthcare professionals appointed by the airline.

Buscher said: ‘This was an especially sad and emotional incident due to the nature of the crash which, it became apparent, was a suicide. The aftermath unfolded over three days and the airport fire department joined the emergency management department to handle the crisis.’

He explained that when air crashes happen, the two key airports are the arrival and departure locations but that protocol dictates the special assistance team from the affected airline has to set up a special assistance centre (Doc 9998 An/499 ICAO – CIR 285). The incident coordination centre at Dusseldorf Airport functioned as the general crisis management centre. The main task for this team was to gather as much information about the affected individuals – passengers and crew – as quickly as possible. This was not only essential for the investigation but also to help inform relatives of the victims and to distribute information to the press as well as protecting relatives from the press.

Different departments from the airport were represented at the ICC, including the technical department, police and corporate communications. Buscher's responsibilities included coordinating all the different agencies involved and connecting their different communications channels.

The initial alarm came in at 11:10am and the incident response lasted over three days. The crash killed 150 passengers including a class of schoolchildren, six crew members and two babies. ‘We learned that there is an urgent requirement for social and trauma care during the mitigation of these types of incidents, as well as a constant need for the correct communications. This needs to occur from the initial shock phase through to the next stage when people start to ask why and how something like this could happen. We also learned that our care team was not sufficiently prepared for the enormous emotional impact that this crash had.

‘We did learn that, in spite of the immense sorrow, we were sufficiently prepared to meet a crisis on this scale. No effort was spared to help any of the affected people and all resources to deliver aid were used.’

Buscher explained that the main issue encountered was gathering accurate information and validating this. It soon became obvious that poor information negatively affected the handling of the course of the incident, especially with regards to communicating with the press.

His ultimate recommendation addressed this issue head on. ‘Regular exercises should be held in order to improve handling and distributing of information, while this should also be incorporated in the emergency response plan,’ he concluded.

The Bowtie of risk management and mitigation

Laura Madden, chair of CAA’s Bowtie User Group (BUG),  explained that barrier risk models such as the Bowtie were a great way to manage and mitigate risk, especially within a safety management system. A Bowtie model can assist in many ways, but its strength is in visually depicting risk so that users can easily identify risk mitigations. The Bowtie also works well to highlight what works and what requires attention and improvement. And, because it’s a picture, it’s a great communication tool too.

‘It provides you with an appreciation of what might happen if risks are not adequately mitigated and will enable more proactive management of gaps and weaknesses,’ she explained.

‘Originating from the oil and gas industry, the Bowtie model will improve the information that you feed into a risk management process. One organisation hangs their Bowtie models on the wall in a strategic place in their station for people to view and comment on the risk picture at all times. Everyone is therefore aware of it and how they manage safety and so it helps communication between all parties involved in managing the risk.

‘The Bowtie model is scenario-based, so it is qualitative and meaningful for day-to-day operation and it is basically a way of structuring a brainstorm. This allows us to understand how to get from cause to accident.’

On the left hand side of the Bowtie, an individual using the model places threats and prevention controls. With these they are looking at what causes and how to prevent the unsafe state which sits in the middle of the model – the 'knot' of the Bowtie (known as the 'top' event). All means of recovery from this unsafe state are listed on the right hand side of the Bowtie, also identifying the consequences.

Bowtie models are a key component to enable a risk-based approach as part of performance-based regulation and provides:

  • Effective, visual depiction of risk.
  • A balanced risk overview for the whole aviation system between internal and external stakeholders (including third     party risks).
  • Increased awareness and understanding of the risk to safety, leading to catastrophic outcomes.
  • Best practice guidance material for safety risk management at an operational and regulatory level.
  • Identification of critical risk controls and an assessment of their effectiveness.
  • Identification of safety performance indicators to monitor performance of risk controls.
  • The Bowtie model is used in different sectors around the world and the aviation sector is increasingly adopting it.

Laura Madden invited aviation Bowtie practitioners to join BUG, which meets quarterly at the CAA’s Gatwick office. At the moment it contains representatives from London City Airport; Belfast City Airport; Heathrow Airport; and Manchester Airport.

She added that Bowtie also proved an excellent tool to present a business case to accountable senior managers, because it instantly highlights failing recommendations and improvements. ‘Because it is visual, it is an easier way of explaining why you need x amount of investment in safety. Bowtie provides accountability and makes clear where you should focus your concentration and ultimately your investment.’

The CAA provides extensive information on the Bowtie  model on its website: https://www.caa.co.uk/Safety-Initiatives-and-Resources/Working-with-industry/Bowtie/

Standing ovation for 9/11 heroes

Captain Tony Tricarico of the FDNY received a standing ovation for an emotional account of his experiences during 9/11. He acknowledged at the end of his presentation that he had never spoken in such detail – even to his family – about his experience as an FDNY fire officer during the aftermath of the attacks in 2001.

His account began on the morning of September 11 and ran right up to the last day of the recovery effort at ground zero.

Tricarico was travelling in his volunteer fire chief’s car to a friend’s fire house when he heard on the radio that a ‘small plane’ had hit the towers. Minutes later he realised that it was a terrorist attack.

He raced to his firehouse and he phoned home to say goodbye, already thinking he might never be coming home. Everyone united. Then he described what happened when the buildings collapsed, the enormity of the collapse zone and the recovery of the many body parts. Delegates remained fixed on his every word as he delivered a blow by blow account of the action his men took, the sights they saw and the frustrations they felt. 

Tricarico explained: ‘I knew that my men were exhausted and needed a rest, so I took them over to the yacht club just beyond the collapse zone. The area was covered in the grey sooty dust, as was everything in the vicinity. One of my men rose and declared that a flag should be raised in the collapse zone as a show of American tenacity. However, while this firefighter and two of his colleagues were raising the flag, unknown to them a photographer captured them on camera. Little did they know that they would end up becoming the icons of 9/11, because the next morning this picture was on the front page of almost every paper in the world, and within the FDNY these guys are still fondly known as the "flag boys".'

Tricarico told of firefighters that were lost and that were listed as dead but were not. At one point he made his team stop at a pay phone and call home to let their loved ones know they were still alive.

He spoke of the enormous work load during the recovery effort and of the funerals. At one point he even thanked the audience, snapping to attention and delivering a salute, for the support that was received from the European nations during the time when it seemed there was an endless procession of funerals where European firefighters showed up in uniform out of respect.

The days and months that followed the attacks remained extremely tough, right up until when the last piece of steel was ceremoniously removed from ground zero.

Finally, Tricarico reminded the audience of the importance of family, living life while you are here and healthy. The audience rose and gave Tricarico a standing ovation. ‘I am humbled by the response and am grateful to have been able to tell this story. It was the first time I have spoken about the events in such a depth. Even my family, here in attendance today, have not even heard most of it,’ he concluded.

  • Operation Florian

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