Photo: While earning their fire safety merit badges, a group of Boy Scouts ride in style following a training exercise. /Photo by Courtney Ouellette
Containing a fire that gives off overwhelming amounts of heat and sends massive clouds of thick, black smoke into the air is a typical day for DFW International Airport firefighters.
The DFW crew recently teamed up with firefighters from Canada and San Francisco on Thursday, July 9 for annual recertification live burn training, which is required by certain aviation regulations.
The DFW Fire Training and Research Center often shares this proactive approach with crews from around the world, including China, South Africa, Singapore, and countries in Central and South America, Europe and Africa.
DFW has one of the foremost programs in the world due to its advanced tools, technology and facility, according to Battalion Chief Randall Rhodes.
“Our training facility is available for use year-round,” Rhodes said. “A lot of the other training facilities in the country have to close down in the wintertime. We’re also a very large international hub, DFW being the third busiest airport in the United States.
“Not only do we do training here, we have an academy of instructors that travel to other locations. Some departments have a large group of students they have to train, so we’ll send instructors with the necessary materials and experience and a subject matter expert.”
The day’s course included various types of fires inside and outside of an aircraft and exercises involving the 3D liquid hydrocarbon pit.
“Today in the small narrow body aircraft simulator, they’ve gone in and done interior search and rescue operations involving cabin fires and cockpit fires. They’ve also done training with wheel break fires and engine fires,” Rhodes said.
“The exercises give firefighters the opportunity to use foam and dry chemical applications with liquid fuel fires such as fuel tanks, storage tanks, and wing cracks.” he said.
Despite the rarity of major aircraft accidents, the DFW crew, along with their international partners, refuse to become complacent.
“Fortunately for aircraft technology, it’s very rare that we do have an aircraft accident or incident, but there are a lot of minor incidents that happen throughout the country all the time,” Rhodes said.
“Firefighter training is an ongoing constant thing, in case something big does happen. The last big one occurred three years ago this month and that was in San Francisco.”
Rhodes referred to the Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul, South Korea, that crashed while landing at San Francisco International Airport on July 7, 2013.
“We’ve actually increased our capabilities to train firefighters,” Rhodes said. “Right now, we’ve averaged just over 20,000 students in the last 20 years.”
One of those students is Pasco Valana, from Vancouver.
“In Canada, we are required by our government to make sure that we meet certain standards every year,” Valana said. “For example, in one particular drill, we have to do a three-dimensional field fire, so pretending that fuel is burning from the wing down to the ground and then pooling, we have to use dry chemical, which immediately snuffs out the fire but doesn’t give us a lot of post-fire security, so we have to learn to cool things down.”
Not only has Valana participated in several certification courses, he’s been trained at several different locations.
“This is my eleventh year and fourth time down at Dallas Fort Worth doing this program. We’ve been very blessed that the Vancouver International Airport authority sends us to a variety of places,” Valana said.
He does, however, consider DFW one of the best.
“This is much more modern as far as the facilities, not to mention the male and female instructors here have a wealth of knowledge,” he said. “There is no ego; it’s about serving their brothers and sisters in the fire service, which is great.”
Max Deno, an Eagle Scout with Boy Scouts of America, is looking to pursue a career like Valana’s.
“Our scout troop is trying to get the fire safety merit badge, and so our scoutmaster invited us all out here to the DFW Airport to watch some of the training fires go on,” Deno said.
“I love what they do. I respect them a lot, and I’m always thankful that they’re there to help people in need.”
Deno and his troop had the opportunity to talk with the firefighters and watch as they battled various fires. Many of the scouts even tagged along during an exercise with the fire trucks.
“I got to talk to one of the captains and the battalion chief, and he told me the ins and outs of what it is, how old you have to be, what the qualifications are,” he said. “I’ve looked into the airport before and have always had an interest in firefighting.”
Firefighter training programs vary from state to state and country to country. Though the nation standard is a one-week course, Texas requires a three-week course for airport firefighters.
“I think a lot of people out there don’t know exactly what we do,” Valana said. “It’s nice for people to see that we’re not just sitting around waiting for something to happen. A lot of what we do is very proactive, so we’re looking for ways to keep the environment and our guests safe.”