Highlights from AFOA 2018

Published:  05 March, 2018

The AFOA Annual Conference 2018 highlighted the rapid way in which the aircraft rescue and firefighting sector is evolving. 

Part one of the event report includes an update on the regulatory landscape, disaster victim identification, the importance of improved HRET training, and the latest thinking on ventilation.

Gavin Watts

Keynote address

'The fire service has never before faced change on the scale it faces today,' said Gavin Watts, Chief Fire Officer for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, in his keynote speech at the Airport Fire Officers Association’s annual conference in January 2018. And it is facing such large-scale change against the backdrop of a government that is aspiring to be strong and stable whilst dealing with Brexit, ongoing austerity, and the ever-present threat of terrorism.

‘The fire in Grenfell Tower changed everything in every aspect of the fire and rescue sector,’ he added. ‘From how we look at risk, to how we interact with those responsible for building standards, how we respond to incidents, and how we deal with the aftermath.’

Watts also praised the inspirational response of the London Fire Brigade to the tragedy.

As the National Fire Chief Council Lead for Aviation, he added that mental health and wellbeing should be at heart of organisations. 'We must be aware of our own feelings, our own vulnerability and the need to ask for help.'

Jon Round and Neil Gray 

CAA regulatory update

The CAA regulatory update was this year delivered jointly by Jon Round (left) – head of Airspace, Air Traffic Management and Aerodromes (AAA) – and Neil Gray (below), principal aerodrome inspector.

Jon Round provided a strategic view of the areas of the aviation industry that fall under the regulatory oversight of AAA. Talking about the predicted growth in air transport over the next 20 years, Round advised the conference that this would require regulation and policy changes. Airport expansion in the UK's southeast, for example, could only happen if airspace, air traffic management, and aerodrome design and operations work collaboratively to develop the necessary changes, and also manage the associated risks.

A question often raised is what impact Brexit will have on the UK aviation sector and the country's relationship with EASA. Addressing this matter, Round advised delegates that the CAA is explicit in its desire to retain full membership of EASA, and that however the Brexit transition plays out, the UK CAA will seek to remain aligned to EU aviation rules.

In the aftermath of the tragic events of 14 June 2017, when  71 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire, CAA, like other regulators, has been looking to see what parallels can be drawn, and what lessons can be learned from the tragedy. CAA board members raised the question of whether the current standards of rescue and firefighting are still appropriate. Commenting on this, Round said that the CAA view is that current levels of RFFS are compliant with international standards. He added that the dilemma for CAA is that while a risk assessment may show that the risk of an aircraft accident at an aerodrome is relatively low, if one does occur the resource required to deal with it will remain the same, regardless of likelihood.

To conclude, Round challenged the industry’s perception and understanding of its risks and encouraged delegates to ensure that RFFS provision at aerodromes remains proportionate to the types of emergencies that may credibly occur in these locations.

Neil Gray updated the conference delegates on the current workstreams of the ICAO Rescue and Firefighting Working Group (RFFWG), which met in February 2017. The agenda topics for the next meeting were: proposed changes to
ICAO Annex 14 Vol 2 (Heliports); provision of RFFS for general aviation and all-cargo operations; development of provisions for aircraft door numbering; and provisions for lithium battery fires.

Turning to EASA, Gray updated delegates on the transition of UK aerodromes to the requirements of Commission Regulation (EU) 139/2014; a trial standardisation audit of UK-CAA carried out by EASA in March 2017; the development of medical fitness standards for RFFS personnel; and the forthcoming removal of concessions to reduce the quantity of dry powder provided by an aerodrome operator when a high-performance type is used.

With regard to the transition of aerodromes, Gray provided a pan-European view, which showed that the UK completed the transition task ahead of the 31 December 2017 deadline, while some EU member states had not yet started.

Commenting on the development of medical fitness standards for RFFS personnel, Gray provided an overview of the recent regulatory impact assessment and the expected next steps in the implementation of the new standards. Referring to the publication of a notice of proposed amendment, Gray encouraged all delegates to fully engage with the process and have their say.

To conclude, the regulatory update, Gray provided data drawn from mandatory occurrence reports that were submitted between November 2015 and September 2017 and which related to aerodrome occurrences that could have been precursors to an RFFS response.

Andy Woodward

Disaster victim identification

Andy Woodward of the College of Policing explained how a police response to a major incident involving mass fatalities works, as well as the disaster victim identification (DVI) process. This is always a multi-agency approach involving many different organisations and specialists, along with the coroner. And the response always requires close liaison with fire and rescue services at the scene of disasters.

Woodward explained that DVI teams attend all incidents where there have been multiple fatalities. These include road accidents, marine incidents, air crashes, terrorist incidents and major fires. Their role is to recover and identify deceased individuals as well as body parts and tissue. Everything they recover is treated with respect and dignity and nothing can be left behind at the scene.

Disaster victim identification is a process by which disaster victims are identified scientifically; it never relies on visual identification.

The DVI process identification methods involve ante-mortem and post-mortem data being compared by investigation teams. Ante-mortem data is obtained by family liaison officers from surviving relatives and could include DNA samples, fingerprints, or dental records. Post-mortem information is everything obtained directly from the deceased victim and can include personal effects, identifications cards, and jewellery. The investigation teams then physically match the ante-mortem and post-mortem data to establish identification on behalf of the coroner.

Specific and unique international documentation is used during the process to capture all information. A unique number is assigned to each victim at the point of recovery and this is used throughout the process until a formal identification has been established.

Woodward explained the importance of gathering all the data at the scene, and also about the potential movement of victims, in order to save lives and protect forensic evidence. Everyone must be aware of their movements on the site of an incident and the potential for contamination of the scene and the evidence.

Woodward added that a DVI team normally consists of six trained staff, including a team leader, two searchers, two safety officers, and a photographer. However, the teams can be reduced in size if working within a restricted environment, such as the confines of an aircraft cockpit.

He ended his presentation by fully explaining the specific documentation used throughout the process and the reasons why it is so important, along with the importance of full post-incident procedures specifically around staff wellbeing and multi-agency debriefing.

John Sulek 

HRET User Group

John Sulek, fire service operations manager at Manchester Airport, took delegates through the complexities of the use of high-reach extendable turrets.

He explained that the HRET is a highly effective firefighting tool and one that is seeing increased use across Europe. Its primary function is to puncture the fuselage of an aircraft, or punch out the aircraft window, and then deliver a firefighting medium as a jet or spray. The high and long reach of this piece of equipment means that these operations be achieved from a safe distance.

However, Sulek added that the technology has proved to be complex and that operators are in need of extensive training.  To illustrate this point, he outlined examples at two airports in the US where HRET use was not as effective as it should have been.

In one incident, a Boeing 767-200 cargo plane had a fire just behind the cockpit and, although the two crewmembers escaped through a window and there were no casualties, there was still extensive damage to the aircraft that might have been prevented if the HRET operator had been better
trained.

On the other occasion, a fire in an Air Asiana Boeing 777-200 passenger aircraft resulted in several fatalities and many more were severely injured in the fire. The report on this incident highlighted the need for more training on the use of HRET.

A UK HRET User Group has been set up with representatives from airports in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Manchester. Its objective is to share information; develop standard training and operation; introduce accredited training courses; establish safe working practices, and enhance the group’s knowledge by using HRET on sample training ground aircraft.

The group attended a four-day FAA accredited ‘train the trainer’ course at Dallas Fort Worth Fire School in Texas, US, and then moved to a UK base where a salvaged 747 was used. The result of these exercises has been the creation of a two-day training course with eight separate modules, including a case study, written assessment, and practical assessment. A three-day instructor course has also been developed.

Sulek finished his presentation by explaining that knowledge of the benefits and capabilities of HRET has the potential to open up its use by fire services in such areas as industrial building and warehouse fires as well as fires in multi-storey car parks.

Lee Johnston

Ventilation at fire incidents

Lee Johnston from West Sussex Fire and Rescue has been heavily involved in formulating new guidance on firefighting in the UK. He told delegates that a new booklet looking at ventilation is now available.

Johnston informed the conference that the basic premise in existing guidance should be reversed. Where the strategy until now has been to ventilate and then extinguish, this should be changed to preventing ventilation as much as possible and fighting the seat of the fire first.

Johnston began his presentation by outlining the example of a fire on an aircraft at Heathrow Airport some four years ago. The fire was in an under-ventilated location with a range of composite materials, some of which melted at higher temperatures than aluminium. The fire was contained and his conclusion was that a fire on an aeroplane is more likely to be under-ventilated.

The guidance manual for 18 years until 2015 stated that firefighters should ventilate the area of the fire and then proceed to put the fire out. This was based on the procedure carried out by US fire crews, which was ventilated first before moving on to extinguishment.

'A problem with this method,' Johnston explained, 'is that once you ventilate, the temperatures become higher.'

He added that when he looked at the background of the guidance in the manual, alarm bells started to ring. He realised that the guidance that had been used for 18 years was based on firefighters’ experience, not experimental verification.

James Braidwood, founder of the world’s first municipal fire service in Edinburgh in 1824, had stated that if the amount of oxygen present was consumed by the fire, then this would reduce the fire’s ability to continue. In short: ‘If you open the doors and windows, you get more air and more fire; close them, and you get less fire,’ said Johnston.

He concluded by saying that the best scenario for firefighting is to make sure that everything is in place before entry, from prepared and equipped firefighters to hoses and any other equipment that might be needed. When the door or access point is opened, the stopwatch starts to put the fire out before it grows in intensity.

  • Operation Florian

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