AFOA hosts mini conference at the International Fire Training Centre

AFOA members were welcomed to the association’s recent mini conference at the International Fire Training Centre (IFTC), Tees Valley Airport, Darlington by AFOA Committee Member Waine Weaver and Gary Watson, Business Operations Manager at IFTC. Delegates enjoyed a packed programme of speakers covering diverse aviation fire and rescue topics, with a particular focus on training and broader industry updates.

Matt Bourner, Watch Manager at Manchester Airport Rescue & 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 airport rescue and firefighting service and the fourth amputee firefighter serving in UK fire and rescue services. Matt gave a very open and honest account of the long and very hard 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. Matt is an amputee counsellor for the Limbless Association and AFOA has made a £500 donation to this worthy charity.

Gregor Lindsay, Head of Learning & Development at The Emergency Planning College (EPC) then presented on UK Resilience; The Evolving Landscape. Historically resilience has strongly focused 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 being driven by a determination to better understand risk and to ensure greater preparedness via exercises. There is recognition of the role played by the private sector and a greater focus on teams, people and upskilling. The National Risk register is now being updated on an ongoing basis, rather than every two years. The National Situation Centre, established to combat the pandemic, is now up and running. There is also a drive to better understand interdependency and to ensure it is possible to handle several issues at the same time.

Paul McDonald, CEO, and Joseph Gallagher, Director of Operations and Development at Camor Ltd, presented on Integration and Communication for a multi-agency environment. Emphasising the need for greater use of interoperable training exercises, Paul referred to a security incident at Edinburgh Airport in 2014 to highlight practical and communications issues and how emergency service teams were able to work together. Joseph used an incident at Glasgow Airport in 1999, when a Cessna crashed after take-off, to highlight the many communications issues that can be expected arise.

Taking a break from presentations, delegates had the choice of touring IFTC’s comprehensive fireground facility and the VR suite. The fireground features over 25 training simulators with multiple ARFF vehicles and different aircraft ranging from an A380 CAT 10 simulation rig, a full Trident aircraft, 747 CAT 9 simulation rig, military and civil helicopters and a Tornado aircraft. IFTC’s 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.

Stephen Milton, MD of Emergency Response Driver Training, started the afternoon session of the conference looking at the complex requirements under Section 19 for driver training of emergency vehicles when responding landside, 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 training, Class 4 (heavy) vehicles will require 80 hours.

Chris Thain, Business Development Manager at G3 Systems, gave an enlightening presentation on firefighter training in a combat zone, looking specifically at G3’s work supporting airfields in Afghanistan up to the withdrawal US forces. This work included a number of logistical challenges and cultural issues, including language barriers and rapid ‘skills fade’.

IFTC’s Gary Watson gave an enlightening and refreshing look at Team Dynamics in a CPD-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, recognising our differing strengths and needs.

Dr Thomas Budd, Lecturer in Airport Planning and Management at Cranfield University, outlined the work the university is doing in the field of RFFS hydrogen fuelled aircraft response training, specifically the use of VR 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 smartphones from March 2022. AFOA members and 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 the training at the next Mini Conference in 2022.

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 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). Neil ended by exploring future flight challenge projects and their likely implications for ARFFs including sustainable aviation fuels; electric, hybrid and hydrogen aircraft and vertipods and urban air mobility.

The day ended with a fine Christmas dinner provided by the IFTC. A charity raffle held raised £376 for The Firefighters’ Charity.

AFOA has decided not to hold its traditional full-scale conference in 2022. Its next Mini Conference event is scheduled to be held at the end of the first quarter of 2022, with details to be confirmed. The AFOA AGM is scheduled to take place at The Emergency Services Show at the NEC, Birmingham, from 21-22 September 2022. The next full-scale AFOA conference is scheduled for February 2023.