The Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting Service - Part 2

Concluding Henry Gascoigne’s recollections.

As new aircraft were introduced into service and changes meant the availability of auxiliary firemen diminished, it was necessary to gradually move away from the auxiliary system. Introduction of the new high capacity mobile equipment also meant change in the manning system to be effective. In the years 1957-58, new all-wheel-drive fire tenders were introduced into service. The Large Fire Tender (LFT) had a high capacity discharge rate monitor and also carried a secondary agent, mainly for aircraft engine fires. These large fire tenders had a liquid throughput of water and foam producing agent from the monitor of 400 gallons per minute and produced expanded foam of 4,000 gallons per minute. Compared with the fire tenders they replaced, the new fire tenders had eight times the output capacity of foam.

Light Rescue Tenders also became available, and were equipped with power operated metal cutting saws, floodlights and a range of rescue equipment.

New water tenders were also provided, these being built on a similar chassis to the LFT. The Light Water Tender (LWT) provided additional water capacity to extend the LFT in foam production. In addition, the LWT had a capacity for structural fire fighting.

An important aspect in aircraft fire fighting was the quality of the fire fighting agent and application rate. In the cases of the ex-RAAF fire tenders, these units were originally operated on a soap-based foaming agent. This type of foam readily broke down under fuel fire conditions and was not as stable as the protein foaming agent. Consequently many of the fire tenders were re-calibrated to use the protein foaming agent.

Now that the Fire Service Training School (FSTS) was established, a venue was available to undertake test and development work. There were many items that required review, or there was a need to find better equipment.

A few examples of the Test and Development programmes it initiated to create a better service were:
Protective clothing – helmets, fire-fighting coats, gloves, and boots.
Fire fighting agents – foams, dry chemicals, wetting agents, testing procedures.
Rescue equipment – hand tools, hydraulic rescue kits, breathing apparatus.

By undertaking test and development work at the FSTS, it was possible in most cases to evaluate the testing under simulated operating conditions.

Standardisation started to emerge in the operational field in 1956 as Fire Service Instructions and a Training Manual were issued and enforced during training courses at the FSTS. An annual efficiency competition was commenced in 1960-61, and the Minister donated a shield. Separate competitions were held in Australia and in Papua-New Guinea, and all units competed for the Senator Paltridge Shield. This competition sought out the most efficient fire and rescue unit with emphasis on teamwork as well as general efficiency.

Again, in the early period of the re-established Fire Service an important facet was co-ordination with other sections of an airport. In the initial years of operation, the Fire Service operated under Ground Facilities, Airports Division. Because of the need to work closely with the operational groups, Fire Service was transferred from Airports to Operations in 1960. This move also brought a revision of instructions so that all groups in the Operations Branch used the same basic core instructions with special sections applicable to each group.

As at June 1961, the Department operated 36 RFFS units in Australia and the Territories. A total of 274 Officers and Firemen were employed full-time and in addition 800 Auxiliary Firemen were attached. In Papua-New Guinea there were five operational units and 46 indigenous firemen. In the initial years of operation in Papua-New Guinea Australian Fire Service Officers were in charge of operational units. These Officers had a major training task and their target to be achieved was to train the local staff to a level where could accept officer status, and operate their own Units.

When the Sydney Airport international facilities were being planned, it was necessary to relocate the Fire Service Training School. A site was selected adjacent to the Operations area at Melbourne's new Tullamarine Airport. Considerable planning was necessary to provide not only the training school building, but also outdoor training areas. The new FSTS opened in 1973 and, as the Service expanded to cope with new aircraft types, it was necessary to review techniques and course content. Review of training concepts continued, staff ratings, or a 'licence to operate' in given positions was introduced, and in time the Rating System was a proven boon to the Service.

Because training had to match operational conditions, it became a major requirement of the Fire Service to introduce high capacity and more complex equipment to match the larger aircraft being brought into service. Staff numbers were increased following the introduction of Manning to Category. By this time the Nucleus Manning – Auxiliary Firemen – had ceased to function. Due to all of these factors, the training equipment had increased dramatically and plans were prepared to increase the Training School capacity.

The Fire Service has trained a great number of overseas students. Initially, training was undertaken under the Colombo Training Scheme and students came from Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, African states, Nepal, Maldives, Fiji and New Zealand. In addition, RAAF staff were also trained.

Fire Officers of the Depatmental Fire Service have been seconded on numerous occasions to overseas countries to review and report on their airport fire services. Over the past 37 years Australia has also provided Fire Officers to take charge of training in Malaysia, Singapore, the Middle East, Nepal and Papua-New Guinea.

In addition, a number of ICAO project tasks have also been undertaken, and Australia has had a considerable input into the ICAO Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting scales and guide-lines. Australia has also contributed to the National Fire Prevention Association of America for their Codes associated with Aircraft Fire Fighting and Rescue, Fire Extinguishing Agents, Crash Fire Rescue Vehicles and Fire Prevention in Aircraft Hangars.

Another initiative was a Code of Practice on fire protection and safety of buildings. As a result, all building proposals had to be referred to the Fire Section for fire protection and fire safety approval.

In 1974 the first Fire Safety Officers course was held in conjunction with other government departments at the Central Training College, Melbourne.

Note: The Melbourne Fire Service Training School was closed in the late 1990s and demolished in June 2003.

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