A BTR response for all

Published:  02 April, 2009


Groningen Airport Eelde’s fire service in the north of the Netherlands has implemented a new way of responding to incidents which gains precious seconds for responders – Basic Tactical Reponse (BTR).


BTR is a concept that was first developed by the Dutch Royal Airforce, and works on the principle of adapting to deviations. Jan Huizing, the Commander of Groningen Airport Fire Service (ICAO Cat 3 with pre-note to Cat 7) explains that Groningen Airport’s Fire Service has been operating with the BTR concept for over two years now, and for the personnel this way of response has been extremely successful. BTR means that every member of the incident response team has his own pre-set role, in which they carry out duties during incidents without asking questions. This means that every member of the team is highly aware of the duties of other team members, as well as their own. Only when the incident commander has indicated that the scenario they are facing is different, will he give instructions on how to respond.

Huizing calls this procedure “adapting to deviation” and he explains that the benefit of this system is that the incident commander does not have to waste valuable time with a briefing about procedures that the team already knows by heart. Instead, he can just give commands such as: “basic line up”, “front” or “behind”, and the team will know that the commander will tell them different when a scenario is not standard. “BTR shortens your communications line, and gives the responders piece of mind, because there is no shouting back and forth in the vehicle,” he adds.

“Typically when people first begin training to become firefighters they start with repressive training sessions in structural fires where the instructors tells them exactly what do to and where to go. ‘Turn left’, ‘turn right’, and ‘you cannot go past the seat of a fire.’ We also teach firefighters exactly what to do. But we realised that in real life response, as commanders we keep saying the same things over and over again. The firefighters have this knowledge already because they have been taught how to respond.”
Comprehensive training is required for responders to learn their exact role according to BTR protocol. It is easily taught on the fire training ground with mock-ups, or even on a model in the office.

Another positive aspect of BTR is that participating firefighters anticipate sooner if and when an incident will deviate from normal, so they can raise the alarm with the other members of the team. In principle, this way of thinking sharpens up the instinct of the firefighters. Huizing adds that people act more proactively when following the “adapting to deviations” concept.

The Dutch Royal Airforce has been working according to this principle for several years now, and military organisations are procedure-heavy. They will always try to execute operations in the most simple and practical manner. “We were bit sceptical about BRT at first. However as soon as we started working via this concept, we saw how efficient and effective it was. And when something is efficient and effective, you gain time and this is exactly what we need in ARFF because we have to respond so rapidly.”

Huizing doesn’t know of any other European airport fire brigades, but he is aware that Amsterdam Airport’s fire brigade has worked according to a similar principle for some years now, and that Rotterdam Airport has just started working on developing its own BTR protocol. “The standardisation of processes has worked extremely well for us, and I know that Rotterdam is very happy with the BTR system as well. Initiating a new thinking process takes training, but the good thing is that this protocol uses skills that people already possess.”

Huizing believes that it is very important to monitor how international airports act in regards to their ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) category. ICAO states in its regulations that an incident response team has to be able respond within three minutes from anywhere on an airport. The organisation recommends, however, that the ideal response time is two minutes. Dutch Airports are currently in discussion about abolishing the Fire Service regulations for airports, and changing over to ICAO. However, the Dutch Government has a policy to work according to recommendations instead of minimum standards. This means that it wants to implement a minimum response time of two minutes for all airports’ ER teams, and Huizing does not think this is going to be feasible. “I don’t think this will be possible with the existing infrastructure of Dutch airports, and it  will mean that either stations have to be moved, or vehicles will need to be on standby at the run way. In my opinion, this will lead to large discussions on an international level. Most airports strive to work according to the recommendations, but you have to ask yourself on a national level; what is practical?

“We still work on the principle of a theoretical fire surface level, and BRT is based on this. However, when a plane crashes it usually breaks into hundreds of pieces, spread over one or two square miles. If regulations state that you have to be there within two minutes, the only thing that is created in my opinion is a race to be at the incident as soon as possible, compromising crew safety as well as the chances of survival of the people in the wreck. Speed is important, but it should never become a goal in itself.”

  • Operation Florian

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