Firefighters practice aircraft response

By Katie Peterson
Ft. Leavenworth Lamp – March 22, 2018

Photo by Prudence Siebert

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Fort Leavenworth Fire and Emergency Services firefighters engaged in live-fire aircraft training to fulfill their annual requirement March 19-21 at Sherman Army Airfield.

“It helps us stay proficient with our skills as far as when it comes to the airfield and aircraft involvement with air ops,” said firefighter Terrance Carr. “It’s also a requirement to maintain our certification levels.”

Deputy Fire Chief Christian Howell said it is important to get the live fire training.

“(Aircraft fire and rescue) is not something the firefighters here deal with a lot so maintaining their proficiency is really important,” Howell said. “This type of training, live fire training, is very, very important because it’s not something they get to deal with on an ongoing basis. So, getting the live fire training is critical.”

Fort Leavenworth firefighter Melissa Tull said the yearly refresher helps each time because the technique differs from the more common house fire.

“Since I did it last year, already being familiar with which angle to go at, like from the top down, helps,” she said. “In a house you would shoot at the base of the fire.”

During the training, each firefighter engaged in two scenarios. In the first scenario, teams approached the flaming aircraft simulator in an air crash truck to put out the flames. In the second scenario, teams approached the aircraft simulator from the ground using two hose lines — one for exterior only, one for exterior and interior — to put out the flames.

To simulate live flames, Rick Kuhn, adjunct instructor for the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute, and his team create an effective, realistic situation that still remains safe, Howell said.

“It’s a very, very safe way of doing it,” he said. “While the fire is going, inside the control room on the back of that truck, (Kuhn) has the ability to shut all the fire off immediately if there’s any kind of mishap.”

Kuhn said the key to the safety of the simulation is in the design of the aircraft.

“The aircraft is designed to bring up a certain level of fire so it won’t go past what it’s designed for,” Kuhn said. “It simulates pretty closely (to reality). It puts out enough (British Thermal Units) that it’s going to simulate what we’re going to have in the real world.”

Tull said she thought the simulation aircraft is a great training tool.

“It’s as realistic as it can get,” she said. “It’s cool that they come out and do this. They train people all over the world with (the aircraft).”

Kuhn said that during the training, he would mainly be watching the firefighters for technique, and afterward would brief the firefighters on what they did right and what they did wrong.

“We look for them to cover the top of the aircraft and covering all around,” he said. “We control the fire zone so once we see proper application, we bring (the flames) down.”

Though the simulation is consistent with what a firefighter would see in the real world, Kuhn said the training has one difference.

“In the real world, they’re not actually going to be using water. They’d actually be using foam,” Kuhn said. “For training we can’t use that because it has biohazards and it’s really expensive to use.”

Howell said foam is a quicker solution with large liquid fuel fires like in an aircraft crash.

“Fuel is lighter than water so if you lay down a bunch of water, the fuel is going to float on it and keep burning,” he said. “The foam will float on top of the liquid fuel, so it will actually smother it (because) it creates a barrier between the fuel and the air.”

Carr said he thinks it’s still important to be able to use the foam during training, but that it didn’t affect the technique.

“A lot of (firefighters) that just started haven’t been able to use foam, so how can you really visualize how to attack that way. If you can’t play with (the foam) and see how that applies and everything it’s hard to get that fundamental and that understanding,” he said.

“But, how we apply the water is the same principle. It’s all about technique. That’s why it’s good to practice it so we try to get some sort of muscle memory when it comes to technique because you’ll apply that water the same way you apply the foam.”

To further increase the proficiency of the training, Howell said the firefighters also engaged in the same scenarios at night.

“Visibility changes the situation (and) it makes it more difficult,” he said. “Things look different at night. In the daylight, looking at a truck, you can tell the distance. You can inadvertently get too close to something at night because you misjudge the distance.”

Tull said the visibility issue at night comes with possible passengers on the crashed aircraft.

“In the daytime, you obviously can see really well if passengers have been ejected,” she said. “But at night, you drive really close to it in the crash truck so you have to be aware (of passengers on the ground). It’s situational awareness. Be ready for anything.”

Though the training is affective in preparing firefighters for such a situation, Howell said there are still things that will change any given scenario.

“You go to save lives first so you’re doing everything at once,” he said. “It can get a bit chaotic. They have to deal with little problems as they’re inside because there are little fires popping up.”

Carr said the unpredictability is what makes training so important particularly with an aircraft fire.

“The thing about aircraft emergencies unlike a housing emergency is that houses are stationary. You just arrive to the house and it’s there,” he said. “Whereas an aircraft, it may not be where it’s supposed to be. If it crashes, it crashes in different ways … It’s just the nature of the emergency. Everything can change at any time so you have to really pay attention.”

Along with the yearly aircraft training, Howell said Fort Leavenworth firefighters regularly go through live structural fire training, hazardous materials training, technical rescue training and Emergency Medical Technician training to further develop and refresh their skills in preparation for any possible emergencies that may occur on post.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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