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AFOA ends 2021 with successful aviation sector fire safety conference

23 December 2021

MEMBERS OF the Airport Fire Officers Association (AFOA) were recently welcomed to the organisation’s mini conference held at the International Fire Training Centre at Tees Valley Airport in Darlington. On the day, delegates enjoyed a packed programme of presentations covering diverse aviation sector fire and rescue topics, but with a keen focus on training and broader industry updates.

Matt Bourner, watch manager for the Manchester Airport Rescue and Firefighting Service, started the day with an inspirational presentation on his own recovery from a motorcycle accident to become the first amputee firefighter in the UK’s Airport Rescue and Firefighting Service and the fourth amputee firefighter serving in UK Fire and Rescue Services.

Bourner gave a very open and honest account of his long and arduous journey back from injury to normal life and operational duties. Clearly a very determined individual, he emphasised the importance of general fitness, a positive attitude and goal-setting.

To his great credit, Bourner is an amputee counsellor for the Limbless Association. Indeed, AFOA has made a £500 donation to this worthy charity.

Resilience landscape

Gregor Lindsay, head of learning and development at The Emergency Planning College, then presented on the subject of ‘UK Resilience: The Evolving Landscape’. Historically, resilience has focused strongly on the protection of people, property and assets, but the Government is now looking more broadly at organisational resilience and the wider economy, making resilience an intrinsic part of national security and incorporating greater interoperability.

Resilience planning is presently being driven by a determination to better understand risk and also ensure greater preparedness via exercises. There’s recognition of the role played by the private sector and a greater focus on teams, people and upskilling.

The National Risk register is being updated on an ongoing basis, rather than every two years, while the National Situation Centre, itself established to combat the pandemic, is now up-and-running. There’s also a drive to better understand interdependency and ensure that it’s possible to handle several issues at the same time.

Paul McDonald (CEO) and Joseph Gallagher (director of operations and development) from Camor Ltd then presented on ‘Integration and Communication for a Multi-Agency Environment’. Emphasising the need for greater use of interoperable training exercises, McDonald referred to a security incident that occurred at Edinburgh Airport back in 2014 to highlight practical and communication-centric issues and how Emergency Services teams were able to work together.

For his part, Gallagher referenced an incident at Glasgow Airport in 1999, when a Cessna aircraft crashed after take-off, in order to highlight the many communications issues that can be expected to arise.

Tour of the facility

Taking a break from presentations for a time, delegates had the choice of touring the International Fire Training Centre’s comprehensive fire ground facility and the Virtual Reality Suite.

The fire ground features over 25 training simulators with multiple ARFF vehicles and different aircraft ranging from an A380 CAT 10 simulation rig, a full Trident aircraft and a 747 CAT 9 simulation rig through to military and civil helicopters and a Tornado aircraft.

The state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Suite offers the opportunity to deal with a realistic emergency within a safe classroom environment. Students can generate their own emergency scenarios in great detail by controlling factors such as weather conditions, types of buildings, traffic flow and incident details.

Driver training

Steve Milton, managing director of Emergency Response Driver Training, started the afternoon session at conference by looking at the complex requirements under Section 19 for driver training of emergency vehicles when responding landside. These requirements are expected to come into force in May 2022.

Delegates were guided through the complexities of possible exemptions and training requirements for blue light, high-speed and road speed driving. Blue light driving of Class 2 (light) vehicles will require 120 hours of training, while Class 4 (heavy) vehicles will require 80 hours of instruction.

Chris Thain, business dvelopment manager at G3 Systems, then gave an enlightening presentation on firefighter training in a combat zone, looking specifically at G3’s work in supporting airfields in Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of US forces. This work included a number of logistical challenges and cultural issues, among them language barriers and rapid ‘skills fade’.

The International Fire Training Centre’s Gary Watson offered a refreshing look at ‘Team Dynamics’ in a Continuing Professional Development-accredited session. He highlighted four key character types into which all of us can typically be divided. Recognising our own and our colleagues’ characters can be key to forming successful working relationships, it seems, largely by dint of recognising our differing strengths and needs.

Dr Thomas Budd, lecturer in airport planning and management at Cranfield University, outlined the work being conducted in the sphere of RFFS hydrogen-fuelled aircraft response training, specifically the use of ‘Virtual Reality’ training tools for an immersive, safe and secure environment. These new training tools will be free to download on any device including PCs, laptops and smart phones from March 2022.

AFOA members and those within the ARFF community are encouraged to visit https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/dartecseamlessjourney where they can download the ‘Hydrogen Safety in Aviation’ brochure. AFOA is planning to host a feedback session on this training at its next mini conference in 2022.

Industry update

Neil Gray of the Civil Aviation Authority rounded out the day with an industry update. Topics covered included post-Brexit aviation rule changes (which will be made by the Department for Transport) and changes to rebated fuel ‘Red Diesel’ (airfield vehicle use highly unlikely to be legal from 1 April 2022).

Gray also explored future flight challenge projects (among them sustainable aviation fuels, electric, hybrid and hydrogen aircraft, vertipods and also urban air mobility) and their likely implications for ARFFs.

At the end of proceedings, a charity raffle raised £376 for The Firefighters’ Charity.

AFOA’s next mini conference event is scheduled to be held at the end of the first quarter of 2022. Details are to be confirmed in due course. The AFOA AGM is scheduled to take place at next year’s edition of The Emergency Services Show at the NEC in Birmingham. The next full-scale AFOA Annual Conference is scheduled for February 2023.

*Further information on the work of AFOA can be accessed online at www.afoa.org.uk