Some of us learn most effectively by being told, some by watching a demonstration, and some by actually trying to master the task first hand. For most people though it is a combination of all three, and that is one of the guiding principles behind Airservices’ new Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) training facility at Melbourne Airport in Australia.
Major fire and rescue incidents at airports are, thankfully, rare but when they do occur the potential for major loss of life, expensive collateral damage and extensive disruption to service is very real indeed. So much so that airport operators around the world are constantly focused on ensuring that their ARFF firefighters are at peak performance and the equipment they use is the best available.
Nowhere is this more exemplified than at the new ARFF training facility at Airservices Australia’s Melbourne Air Traffic Services compound at Melbourne Airport, where the service recently opened its new A$20 million Learning Academy Hot Fire Training Ground (LAHFTG), part of a A$140 million five-year investment to modernise ARFF facilities that also includes new firefighting vehicles and the refurbishment of fire stations.
This cutting-edge facility has been widely heralded as being the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, with the showpiece of the new training ground being a full-sized mock-up aircraft fuselage. This three-part, multi-level structure replicates the forward fuselage section of a double-deck, wide-body, four-engine Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger airliner – a rear fuselage section of the wide-body twin-engine Boeing 767, and a tail section of the three-engine, wide-body McDonnell Douglas MD-11. It is 56 metres long, 10 metres high and 29 metres wide.
Together these three planes typify the aircraft currently using 22 of Australia’s busiest airports where Airservices is every year responsible for traffic operations for over 80 million passengers on more than four million flights. This hybrid Large Mock-up Unit or LMU enables participants of the training facility to gain invaluable hands-on experience of firefighting and rescue operations involving today’s large and complex airframes. At the touch of a button, the LMU can expose ARFF firefighters to a range of computer-controlled internal and external training scenarios including aircraft fires, fuel spills and engine fires.
The aircraft simulator and associated fire control and safety systems were designed, supplied and installed by Dräeger Safety Pacific. The 180-tonne steel LMU incorporates an array of realistic features, including life-like compartment configurations, passenger seating, door openings, accurately scaled engine nacelles, and a series of ground fuel spill fire scenarios. “Cosmetic” smoke can be pumped into the LMU to simulate life-like firefighting and rescue conditions.
The 15,000 square-metre Melbourne facility also incorporates new classrooms and vehicle engine bays. An externally located and custom designed HazMat storage area provides fuel and services supply for the simulator. Stringent environmental control systems are in place to minimise the impact of the training activity on the surrounding environment. The hard surface of the fire training ground forms the catchment area for contaminants for input to the training complex’s waste water treatment plant for recycling and reuse. In this way, all foam and water used during training is captured and treated.
The new facility centralises what Airservices describes as: “the delivery of high-quality, realistic training to recruits and experienced firefighters undertaking required ongoing and advanced training.” It complements an existing training facility at Melbourne, which is consistent with facilities at key operational stations, and a smaller LMU located at Airservices’ Sydney Airport station, ensuring a high level of consistency in the training delivery.
To ensure that the training reflects the day-to-day operations experienced by the firefighters undergoing training, the facility is equipped with the latest vehicles and firefighting equipment utilised as standard by Airservices. This includes the Rosenbauer Panther (which Airservices refers to as a Mk 8 Ultra Large Fire Vehicle or ULFV). These ten-metre long, 30-tonne vehicles carry 8900 litres of water and 1340 litres of foam at a liquid discharge rate of 80 litres-a-second, which turns to foam, and can throw foam in excess of 80 metres from a forward roof-mounted monitor. They have a top speed of 120 kilometres an hour. The grey “box” on the roof – just behind the passenger side window – contains floodlights on a telescopic mast to provide area lighting. Stowage for various rescue and firefighting equipment is provided behind the roller doors on the sides of the vehicles.
Training Programmes & Applicant Profile
While the facility is designed and equipped to deliver nationally accredited and recognised Recruit Certificate II, Certificate III, Certificate IV, Diploma and Advanced Diploma level training – all of which will be delivered in 2013/2014 – initial courses focused on the Recruit Certificate II intake. The facility is also delivering one-week operational workshops, which are refresher programmes.
To be eligible to undertake recruit training at the Learning Academy Hot Fire Training Ground applicants must be at least 18 years old, have Australian or New Zealand citizenship or Australian permanent residency, hold a Senior First Aid certificate or equivalent prior to commencing the recruitment course, and hold a manual driver’s licence. If the candidate is applying for water rescue equipped locations, they must also hold a current water competency qualification, such as Bronze Medallion, or have the ability to undertake and pass an ARFF water competency assessment prior to joining the course.
The selection process is broken into a number of stages and involves online testing, a telephone interview and physical assessment that consists of a shuttle run (required level of 9.6), functional testing, and a series of physical aptitude tasks. Assessment takes place at a location of the applicant’s preference and comprises a panel interview, a teamwork exercise and further online testing. Referee checks and a medical are undertaken before an offer of employment is made.
Successful recruit applicants undergo 11 weeks of intensive training at the Melbourne Learning Academy prior to placement at their home fire station. In line with other Australian firefighters, they are trained under the Australian Public Safety Training Competencies. A base firefighter leaves the recruit course with a Certificate II Public Safety (Fire Fighting and Emergency Operations) in firefighting with the rank of Trainee Fire Fighter. Over the next few years they advance to the Leading Fire Fighter ranks and obtain a Certificate III in Public Safety (Fire Fighting and Emergency Operations) firefighting.
The first step towards becoming an officer in ARFF is the Certificate IV in firefighting supervision which, on successful completion, holds the rank of Sub Station Officer. Station Officers and Fire Commanders in ARFF are qualified to Diploma of Fire Management. Senior Fire Commanders and above are qualified to an Advanced Diploma level.
All training takes the form of theoretical classroom sessions and practical exercises. The recruit Certificate II training, for example, comprises a number of units including accident prevention, responding to an urban fire, operating breathing apparatus open circuit, preparing, maintaining and testing response equipment, and working as a team. It also embraces providing emergency care, participating in rescue operations, operating communications systems and equipment, checking installed fire safety systems, working effectively in a public safety organisation, communication in the workplace, responding to wildfires, and responding to aviation incidents.
As part of the 11 week training programme, the Learning Academy Hot Fire Training Ground programme also delivers elements of the Certificate III training that comprises maintaining safety at an incident scene, undertaking road crash rescue, operating pumps, managing injuries at an emergency incident, and administering oxygen in an emergency situation.
Airservices Australia is one of the world’s largest providers of aviation rescue and firefighting services. It employs more than 740 operational and support personnel and operates and maintains a fleet of over 100 specialised, high-performance aviation firefighting vehicles, aerial rescue vehicles, water rescue boats, difficult terrain vehicles and domestic response vehicles. On average, Airservices’ firefighters are called out around 150 times a week across Australia’s regional, domestic and international airports, responding to aircraft and airport emergency assistance incidents. Around 250 firefighters at all levels are expected to pass through the Learning Academy Hot Fire Training Ground facility each year.
Photographs courtesy of Airservices Australia