This article will be the first of a two-part series on the new Hong Kong Fire Service Department (HKFSD) Training Academy. Part two will be in the July edition of Asia Pacific Fire.
HKFSD has a long history of being a world leader in emergency management I had been aware of the planning that went into the new HKFSD Fire and Ambulance Service Academy (the Academy) well before it opened in January 2016. The feedback I received from those that had visited the complex were so positive that I was looking forward to seeing it. However, nothing prepared me for my visit to the Academy in November 2016 where I was faced with a world class, state-of-the-art training establishment utilising the most up-to-date training techniques and training simulators I have seen. HKFSD can proudly claim it has one of the most advanced training centres in the world.
The Academy integrates many aspects of emergency management and deliberately shies away from silo training. As an example, training for Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) on the large USAR prop may include firefighting, ambulance, high angle rescue, hazmat, media and other skills all working together as they would in a real disaster.
The Academy also realises that with a large modern complex, trainers could concentrate on large and specialist exercises to the detriment of basic skills. So the Academy prides itself on ensuring basic skill like knots, CPR and first-aid firefighting is maintained.
First let me give you a quick introduction to the HKFSD, established in 1868. Hong Kong covers 1,106 Km2 and consists of Honk Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and over 260 offshore Islands. HKFSD has over 10,000 well trained staff across 81 fire stations and 39 ambulance depots responsible for protecting Hong Kong from most non law-and-order risks. HKFSD responsibilities include the ambulance service, urban firefighting, airport firefighting, maritime protection, USAR, Hazmat and many more. In 2016 HKFSD responded to 38,112 fire calls, 36,593 special service calls and 773,322 ambulance calls. This makes HKFSD one of the world’s largest integrated urban emergency services, and it will not surprise our readers to discover that HKFSD has one of the largest and most sophisticated training academies in the world.
The Academy is situated in Tseng Kwan O, very close to the city and near the old Kai Tak airport, it covers an area of 15.8 Hectares and provides 548 residential training places. The Academy is set up in four sections;
- Training of new fire and ambulance recruits,
- Specialist training covering all of the risks HKFSD must protect against under its mission
- Educating the public in what to do in an emergency, and
- External training for other government departments, the private sector and its local and overseas counterparts.
Students and the public can also absorb part of the history and understand the culture of the HKFSD when visiting the Fire and Ambulance Services Education Centre cum Museum, which has been included in the development of this complex and set up to show the HKFSD growth and contribution to Hong Kong over the years.
The museum also includes a respectful memorial to emergency workers that have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The Academy’s simulations are not just the large props (which I will talk about in the next edition) but go into detail on those secondary operational situations that emergency service officers will encounter in their career. Each time I mentioned a training need my host said we can deal with that and showed me a different teaching aid. This included a mock court room, computer training centre and simulated press rooms.
All officers can be subjected to attending formal proceedings in a court of law, Coroners court, parliamentary inquiry and many more. This can be a daunting experience if you have not done it before and thankfully it is not the type of thing that happens often enough for an officer to become expert at it. Courts also have protocols and traditions that must be met, often you are being cross examined in an adversarial way. All of this makes it very hard for the officers that are experts in their field to compose themselves and give clear concise evidence. The mock court is set up in a purpose-built room simulating the various court configurations, the instructors and role players can set up many different scenarios in a realistic atmosphere to give a realistic experience to the trainee. If mistakes are made they can be corrected during the role play or after in the debriefing. The simulation can be repeated as many times as necessary.
Simulated press rooms
Like the court situation, officers are on many occasions are required to interact with the media providing information after a fire as well as using the media to pass on safety messages to the public during a fire. The media simulation provides training for on scene interviews during an incident where the media is trying to get that 30 second grab for the news service that night and the trainee is trying to get out warnings to the public of hazards that may occur during the fire and to inform the public on what they should do to protect themselves.
The media room can be set up for one on one interviews where the student faces the media over something controversial or a large press conference but the room can be versatile enough to do good news stories and public education. The scenarios are all realistic to achieve formal learning outcomes and each session is recorded for full and frank feedback.
Although I will talk about specialist and senior courses in the July edition the core to all good emergency services education is to get the basics right and give recruits the broadest and most realistic training in preparation for their life as an emergency service worker. I will touch on a small number of the many basic skill props that have been installed at the academy.
For ambulance training, the simulation centre has a fully equipped ambulance with instructor viewing point. Simulations can be as basic as a broken limb to crush trauma after an industrial accident, all trainees are assessed on their skills in a real-life situation then the trainee mush hand over the patient to medical staff at the fully equipped simulated hospital emergency ward. All this can be recorded and played back to the student in the debriefing.
With firefighter training the theory is the same; give the recruit as much experience as possible before they have to face the real thing. The student starts with all the basic skills of squirting water but unlike the imaginary fire, when I was a recruit, all students experience real fires (albeit, gas fuelled high tech simulations) in a safely controlled environment. This should not be seen as an easy ride for the student, I was involved in flash over training and the flames where real and hot. Breathing apparatus training is on a grand scale, the BA simulators are large and complicated, with the ability to change all internal walls, to introduce heat and smoke as well as casualties in many difficult situations, again all being recorded and providing inbuilt safety measures.
I have only touched on recruit training; however, the Academy acknowledges the families of recruits graduating from the Academy with a graduation ceremony, this is not unusual for fire services, but the HKFSD has built into the complex a 800 seat undercover visitor viewing stand for the families and friends to attend these important graduations.
The facility is equipped with a modern gymnasium, outdoor physical training complex with a pool and adventure challenge course as well as an internal jogging track. All students and staff are encouraged to keep themselves fit. However, this is compulsory for all recruit courses.
Designed clean and green
The academy is designed to fit in with its neighbours and the environment, it does not allow any contaminants to leave the site. Water is recycled. Foam goes through its own treatment plant. Props requiring a student to confront flame are mainly clean gas-fired teaching aids.
I have only touched on the facilities that have been installed at the Academy and should acknowledge HKFSD for its vision and KFT Fire Trainer as the simulation experts for this high tech complex.
In July, I will write about the Academy’s large scale training props such as the ship, Airbus A380, high-rise office and residential USAR disaster site, trains and many other gas firefighting props for all types of fires.
For more information, go to www.hkfsd.gov.hk/eng/index.html