>Fired up! Local firefighters and airport crew learn to fight fires with high-tech simulator (MNA April 07)

Posted: April 23, 2007 in Feature Stories

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By CEAN BURGESON
Associate Editor

In an emergency situation, especially a fire, five minutes can make the difference between life and death. That’s why Manistee Blacker Airport has a new tool to fight an aircraft fire on their runway — the Quick Response Crash/Fire/Rescue Truck.
“We’ve got commercial airline service with a 19 passenger airplane, and the new regulations which take place in June require us to have a quick response fire truck,” says Bill House, who heads the airport’s operations.
“It will respond to the accident and then it will last long enough that the local fire department will be in to back us up.”
Manistee Township’s fire department is the local responder for fires at Blacker.
“With us being trained in how to operate it, and we’ve got dry chemical foam and water on (the truck), we should be able to take down most accidents on the field prior to the fire department showing up,” says House.
“Manistee Township is only about two and a half miles away, so their response time is really fast — less than five minutes.”
Before purchasing the new fire fighting vehicle, which was built in Texas by a company called Crash Rescue, the airport relied solely on the fire department in case of a fire.
On Thursday, seven employees from the airport and six volunteers from Manistee Township and Eastlake departments were trained to fight fires using the Airport Firefighter Mobile Trainer, a state-of-the-art unit that is trailered in on a semi truck, and can simulate an aircraft fire right on the runway.
Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek operates the 50 foot-long trainer, the first of its kind to be approved as a rescue and fire fighting trainer by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The simulator uses environmentally acceptable propane fuel to provide a variety of realistic aircraft fire scenarios. One of the distinct advantages of the ARFF Mobile Trainer is its accessibility by rescue personnel to sharpen aircraft passenger and crew rescue skills.
The passenger rescue training is very realistic, right down to the recorded screams which play during the drill. Dummies are placed inside the trainer to simulate passengers, and the cabin is filled with thick smoke — so thick in fact, that firefighters can walk by open flame without ever seeing it.
Trainees then “rescue” the 150 pound dummies just as they would in an actual emergency fire rescue.
All of the flame and smoke is highly controlled and safety-monitored by infrared cameras via the control unit which is housed inside the semi-trailer portion of the simulator.
Firefighters do not actually put the fires out, even though they use water to spray the flames. The fire is controlled and extinguished by an operator remotely when he has determined that the proper technique has been used to quench a blaze.
All of the other equipment, from the trucks to the houses, breathing apparatus, rescue equipment, and protective clothing is the same as would be used in an actual emergency.
The simulator has the ability to simulate brake or tire fires, fuel spills, prop or jet engine fires, fuselage fires, and interior fire situations.
Even though it is a simulation, the flames and the smoke are real, and the training is customized based on the local airport. The effectiveness of the simulator lies in how it teaches responders to rapidly control and contain aircraft emergency situations by using “real-world” scenarios.
With their new vehicle and training, Blacker airport is fully prepared for any emergency, and will continue to hone their skills.
“Every airport with commercial air service needs annual training on this, so it will be back every year this time of year,” said House.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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