AFOA Conference – sharing ARFF expertise

Published:  15 March, 2017

The Airport Fire Officers Association held its 18th annual conference in January 2017. The leading event for aviation fire service and aerodrome incident response personnel welcomed over 240 delegates from all over the world and from a wide range of organisations. Ann-Marie Knegt reports on some of the highlights.

From interoperability to the role of the Institution of Fire Engineers and firsthand accounts of managing emergencies, the 2017 AFOA conference delivered a fascinating and informative programme. Simon Petts, chairman of AFOA, called it the most successful event in the history of the association and said that the growing strength of the organisation heralds even better things in the future.

‘AFOA is now in a very strong position in its 18th year, allowing us to focus on providing our members with the information they require,' he added. 'We are in better shape than ever, and we can now really bring this organisation forward. In 2017 we will be focusing on research, development, and education to help our members achieve even greater success.’

In his opening address, Petts also highlighted new additions to the AFOA committee, including Dave Hyde from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, and the appointment of John Purdy from Newcastle International Airport as vice chairman.

‘It is a pleasure to be part of the AFOA committee,' said Purdy. 'We are all committed to helping the association move to another level in 2017, and there are some really strong foundations in place that will allow that to happen. We would encourage all our members to make the most out of the association, and utilise the opportunities to share information and learn from each other wherever possible.’

JESIP – achieving interoperability

This year's keynote address was delivered by Carl Daniels, deputy senior responsible officer for the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme. Carl explained how several significant events, including the 7/7 bombings and floods, highlighted the gaps in joint working. This lack of understanding between emergency services in the UK initiated a new focus on interoperability.

Communication during these incidents was also an area where things could have been better, said Carl, as responders were defaulting to and relying on mobile phones instead of using the Airwave (Tetra) system.

The situation prompted Theresa May, the then Home Secretary, to make a commitment to address the issues of interoperability between the emergency services, which resulted in the formation of JESIP.  An academic review commissioned by JESIP looked at 32 major incidents, and this further highlighted common failings. These included poor working practices, poor organisational planning, inadequate training, and persistent mistakes.

JESIP initiated a programme of training that saw 12,500 emergency services commanders attend a classroom session. The learning from the classroom courses was subsequently tested in live validation exercises.

To ensure that learning from incidents and exercises takes place, the Joint Organisational Learning strategy was developed, which allows the issues identified from de-briefing activities to be submitted and analysed, recommendations to be written and sharing to take place.

Until this point, said Daniels, issues had been identified but they had not always been acted upon successfully to improve effective joint working. He argued that it is essential that joint organisational learning (JOL) is accepted as the standard for multi-agency learning and is adopted by all responder agencies to ensure interoperability is continually improved.

JOL provides emergency services and other responder agencies with a consistent and accountable mechanism to ensure that lessons identified are acted on and the outcomes shared to ensure they become 'lessons learned'.

Joint Doctrine Edition Two was published in August 2016 and it continues to provide guidance for interoperability between all responder agencies.

Daniels set out the key components of the joint doctrine. These are: principles for joint working – the principles that commanders are expected to follow when responding to a multi-agency incident; M/ETHANE – a common method for passing incident information between services and their control rooms; and the Joint Decision Model (JDM) – a common model used nationally to enable commanders to make effective decisions together.

Joint Doctrine Edition Two sets out the appropriate responses from staff and those who support them, and how these should be employed in a multi-agency working environment. By following JESIP, argued Daniels, services can achieve the degree of interoperability that is essential to a successful joint response.

IFE career development at Stansted Airport

The role of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) in career development for aviation firefighters was the subject of the presentation from Jules Williams, watch manager at Stansted Airport.

The idea of setting up an IFE aviation special interest group was first floated at AFOA 2016, with one of its aims to create an IFE career development pathway to support aviation firefighters. Williams explained that an IFE career development model that was set up at Stansted three years ago had been successful on many levels.

‘I want to set out how you can use the IFE at your own airport,’ Williams told delegates, ‘and demonstrate how we have used certain elements of the IFE to develop our personnel and lay the foundations for career progression.’

As a result of the implementation of Stansted’s career development pathway, all 17 of the airport’s managers are now qualified IFE graduates, and all crew leaders are qualified technicians or above. Half the airport’s firefighters have enrolled in a two-year study programme, and an in-house IFE examinations centre has been set up.

‘Personnel regularly asks about further training within the IFE,’ said Williams. ‘Our system has created a training structure that everyone can relate to and access easily. We have independent exam assessment by a broad range of senior IFE professionals, and we can access IFE branches across the world to share knowledge and best practice.’

Williams explained that prior to 2012, when Stansted was sold by BAA to Manchester Airport Group, the airport used Heathrow’s education centre, and crew leaders and managers were required to attain National Vocational Qualifications to levels two and three respectively.

This programme provided structure for development but lacked specific fire service qualities. However, with all the reorganisation brought about by the sale of the airport, opportunities were identified to improve career development.

‘We knew we wanted a structure that was not insular or specific to Stansted,’ said Williams. ‘We now have all our on-going progression in house. We complete initial acquisition at an IFTC for each role, then all roles are placed into our in-house MOC scheme. We knew that we wanted a career development system that engaged with likeminded professionals to promote best practice and ensure we did not develop into an isolated fire service.’

With this in mind, Stansted looked to the IFE because its qualifications are recognised the world over, and it is the only regulated awarding organisation in the UK that specialises only in the fire sector.

The international nature of the IFE was key. ‘Many fire services use the IFE examinations for career progression, and IFE qualifications give instant international recognition of competence and commitment.’

There are more than 180 IFE affiliate organisations worldwide, and this is the route Stansted decided to take. ‘It was not mandatory to do so to run our development model, but it embedded our organisation into the IFE while we continued to work together to shape the model for Stansted AFRS development,’ said Williams.

Stansted’s model is divided into two distinct areas – membership and examinations. ‘This was pivotal. The IFE was able to accredit our current qualifications for all grades above firefighter with IFE membership levels. This gave credibility to the system, as rather than simply implementing new examination criteria, we were able to accredit the supervisor positions.’

Stansted’s structure for academic development covers everyone from trainees to airport fire managers. It is as follows: for airport fire managers, MIFireE and DAFM G/MIFireE, IFE level four certificates; for station managers, GIFireE; for watch managers, T/GIFireE, IFE level three diplomas; for crew leaders, TIFireE, level three certificates; for firefighters, level two certificates; and for trainee firefighters, recruit induction criteria.

‘We became an IFE-accredited centre and this means we can run all exams at the station. Any AFRS that has a MOC CAP 699 scheme should be able to do this,’ commented Williams.

The only exam with a practical element is for incident commanders, and Stansted is currently evaluating the possibility of undertaking this assessment on its fire training ground. ‘This will link our model into a theory and practical assessment. Our instructors will complete a check sheet of performance criteria set by the IFE, assessed by our in-house A1 assessors and verified as required by our IQA.’ 

Looking to the future, Williams outlined the potential for a national framework for IFE career development. This will involve developing practical IFE incident command qualifications at Stansted, as well as further development of the Stansted, Heathrow, Manchester, and Gatwick IFE programmes. ‘We also want to work on the development of the IFE SIG in aviation, and its role in the UK AFRS,’ Williams told delegates.

Preventing catastrophe at Dublin Airport

Gerry Keogh, Chief Fire Officer at Dublin Airport for 37 years, recalled the events of August 26, 2015, when a fire with flames leaping 4m high broke out in a paint-spraying hanger containing two aircraft fully loaded with fuel. A fast response and good firefighting prevented a catastrophe.

Dublin Airport has five hangars, and some are leased to commercial enterprises, including a company which specialises in aircraft painting. Under the lease terms, the companies look after their own in-house fire safety and are assured a fast response from the Airport Fire Service in the event of a fire. The fire alarm systems are monitored by the fire station, and the pre-determined response for a fire at the hangars is an airport foam tender and a 4x4 vehicle.

On the day in question, an Airbus A321 and an RJ Avro were in the hangar. The Avro had been coated in solvents to start removing paint, and the rags to wash off the solvent were left in the corner of the hangar in sealed drums. Had these been involved and exposed to the fire, the situation could have been even more hazardous.

The fire resulted from a failure of the motor in the overhead air handling unit, which had been extracting painting fumes, and it was confined to the ducting.

‘We are a Category 9 airport and have 19 firefighters and two officers on duty at any one time,’ said Keogh. ‘This number is sometimes reduced at nights and on this particular night there were about 16 firefighters.’

The first response teams reported that smoke was issuing from the hangar and the control room operator decided to respond with everything available, leaving the airport with no fire cover. Dublin Fire Brigade was also called and responded to the airport with six units.

‘In summary, the fire started at 07.09. The airport closed at 07.18. The fire was extinguished at 07.42 and the airport re-opened for flights at 08.45,’ said Keogh.

‘Why did we have to close the airport? There were two fully fuelled aircraft and over 200 people working in the hangars. With such a high risk we had no choice but to respond to the fire with all resources available, thus closing the airport for flights until the fire was brought under control. As it was, we had ten flights diverted and three cancelled during 90 minutes of closure.’

Aircraft engine fire and rescue at Las Vegas airport

In another firsthand account, Chris Henkey, who retired after 42 years flying, latterly as a British Airways pilot of Boeing 777s, recalled the engine fire at McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas, on September 8, 2015. It was scheduled as his penultimate flight before his retirement, but proved to be his last.

The twin-engined Boeing 777-236ER had taxied from the terminal and was on the runway.

‘We had all the passengers on board and were cleared for immediate takeoff. I pressed the switch in front of the thrust levers and then put the engines to full power and off we went. At probably about 100 miles an hour there was a bang and the aircraft veered to the left. I got it back under control before we stopped,’ Captain Henkey said.

As they were stopping, the instruments on the left-hand side went red. ‘One showed an exhaust gas temperature of 1,000°C – getting very hot, very quickly – and then we had the fire warning come up. I asked the co-pilot to do the engine fire checklist to try to extinguish the engine fire.'

They couldn't actually see the fire, explained Henkey, as the sun was behind them. He asked the other co-pilot to go back into the cabin to report, and screaming and shouting was heard. When the co-pilot returned to report that the situation was dire, Henkey announced a passenger evacuation. He also called in a mayday to air traffic control and requested the assistance of the emergency services.

‘Air traffic control reported that the emergency services were already on their way. The fire services were stationed facing us so they saw the whole incident.’

All 159 passengers and 13 crew members were evacuated safely using the emergency slides, and Captain Henkey was the last to leave. By then the fire services had begun spraying foam over the aircraft, making the slides very slippery. He jumped out and suffered minor injuries.

‘Back in the terminal somebody gave me a microphone and I addressed the passengers, explaining what had happened and that I was pleased everybody was off safely, albeit with a few minor injuries. The fire service guys had a look at the passengers and a few were taken to the hospital to check for smoke inhalation.’

Captain Henkey said that prompt action by the airport’s fire service not only saved lives but also meant that the aircraft was repaired and back in the air within months.

  • Operation Florian

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