Highrise training

Published:  01 January, 2007

Highrise firefighting is one of the most arduous challenges facing today’s firefighters and yet - until now - it’s been nearly impossible to get effective high level training scenarios to practice in.

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.
“It’s very difficult for fire brigades to train in current highrise buildings because of the potential for water damage. The London Fire Brigade, only get to practice in buldings just before they are demolished and that isn’t exactly ideal.
“Both Sussex and Hampshire Fire Brigades are currently looking at our newly-developed highrise simulator with a view buying one for themselves,” explains Barry.
Fires in highrise buildings generally require more complicated operational approaches than most structural fires. Tasks such as locating and attacking the fire, evacuating occupants, and performing ventilation can become near-impossible in highrises.
The Gatwick Multi-Training Facility has been designed to provide an ideal environment for exactly this kind of training with its layered floor levels. “Quite often when a fire is on a 7th level floor - beyond the reach of most aerial apparatus - a fire team will have to establish a bridgehead two floor below,” says Barry. “This is what you must train for.”
Although only 30 feet high, the Gatwick simulator features a variety of structural features found in highrise situations: dry riser inlets, working sprinklers, cramped interior stairwells, ladders and access via a hatch. There’s even an external wire cage ‘rat-run’ simulating an empty lift shaft - with a dizzying 30 foot drop.
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 of the three levels is fitted with a dry riser system which replicates how firefighters get water to a highrise 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.
Highrise in 2007:
Barry comments: “By setting up different highrise and climbing scenarios we help our firefighters to become more comfortable and confident in their BA and adept at carrying out safe technical operations under difficult highrise conditions. This approach enables us to monitor and evaluate all the personnel taking part, in perfect safety.
“With our new simulator firefighters can accurately see for themselves how sprinkler and standpipe systems deliver water to the fire area.
“Ventilation can be much more complicated and critical in highrises than in other types of structures. Our vertical ventilation exercises are carried out in rooms, stairways or in the lift/elevator shaft. “Just like a real building, firefighters can see the stack effect causing smoke to rise rapidly through the vertical passages and accumulate on upper floors.
Who makes it?
Configured out of 14 custom-built steel shipping containers by technicians from Graham Leney Ltd of Ottery St.Mary, Devon, Gatwick’s highrise simulator is built over three levels, with multiaccess points.
Graham Leney explains: “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 highrise staircases, hatches, rooms a for perfecting 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,” Barry explains.
“Here you can 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 this month (January 2007).
“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 seethat 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 costeffective,”comments Barry.
More information? E-mail him at: barry_alderslade@baa.com

  • Operation Florian

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