Article by Andy Thompson of the Post-Crescent, Tuesday, August 11, 2020
'It is a big deal': Aircraft firefighting training operation at Appleton airport gaining foothold in Midwest and beyond
When it comes to aircraft firefighting and rescue operations, the stakes are enormous. That's why it's so vital to provide instructional programs to promote and ensure safety.
One of the most promising and comprehensive training centers in the Midwest – and beyond – is based in the Fox Cities.
The new Fox Valley Technical College Airport Rescue and Firefighting training facility, a partnership with the Appleton International Airport, began booking trainees in June. It is located just north of the FVTC public safety training center.
"It is a big deal," said Abe Weber, director of the Appleton airport. "You can get a plethora of training in one environment to prepare for the worst-case scenario."
The operation, headed by FVTC instructor Ben Sokol, is a $10-plus million facility that was financed with federal and state grants. It's billed as the only one of its kind in the Midwest and it offers an exhaustive list of protocols that provide a wealth of specialized aircraft rescue and firefighting instruction.
The training, which is required by the FAA for live firefighting, also offers instruction for new airport firefighters, fire truck drivers and operators of airport firefighting apparatus, municipal firefighters who assist airport firefighters, and first responders.
The training field provides hands-on training scenarios on a Boeing 777 and a Cessna Skyhawk training prop. They are set on a spill-fire area of 96 individually controlled fire zones.
The props are designed to provide realistic situations in which trainees learn proper techniques to approach and attack aircraft fires.
"There's a lot of different aspects to this," Sokol said. "There could be a fuel spill or there could be a large fire under fuselage, wheel well fires – or small fires inside the aircraft.
"These things don't happen often, but we need to be prepared for it,” Sokol said.
From the control room, Sokol can simulate fires on the Boeing 777, along with other potential problems on the aircraft.
"We can remove doors, cockpit controls and go through the 777. (Trainees) need to know the aircraft inside and out," he said.
"There are no actual fires, but there is hands-on training. We can create small to massive fuel fires, and ... smaller fires outside."
There also is a class for drivers and operators of firefighting equipment and apparatus. "We do everything from learning how to drive on streets to setting up apparatus," Sokol said.
"If there is an aircraft emergency, (crews) must adhere to instructions on understanding an airfield, aircraft hazards, how many people on are board, and how they will get off."
Sokol said the training program has drawn considerable interest from departments in Wisconsin and Illinois, and he expects the numbers to expand. He also has heard from departments as far away as Arizona.
The program was developed after a similar training facility in Duluth, Minnesota, was closed. “We picked up the ball, and we’re running with it.” Sokol said.
Weber, the Appleton International Airport director, said the early results are promising.
“It's pointing to a very successful operation,” he said, adding that it has been an important addition to Appleton International.
"We’re a smaller airport," Weber said. "When we have an emergency here, we rely on mutual aid from nearby communities. Now, we can introduce those who respond to structural fires to approaching airliners."
Aircraft firefighting training operation at Appleton airport gaining foothold in Midwest and beyond (Post-Crescent) >>