Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (KDFW) rolls out newly renovated Fire Training Research Center

An airport firefighter who has never seen an Airbus A380 still might have to respond to a blaze on one someday.

So with a fingertip on an oversize touch screen, David Henderson summoned a 3-D schematic of the plane, went inside and roamed the aisles and entered the cockpit. He even stripped away the aircraft’s metal skin to reveal its inner workings.

Where are the penetration points? How are seat arrangements different on the A380’s upper and lower passenger decks? Which cockpit switches govern “throttles, bottles and batteries” — engines, fire suppressants and electricity?

Henderson, a firefighting instructor at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, on Wednesday helped show off D/FW’s renovated Fire Training Research Center at the sprawling airport’s southwestern corner.

A yearlong makeover has made the center one of world’s most advanced training and research facilities, said Jim Crites, D/FW’s operations chief. The project cost $29 million, with about two-thirds coming from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The center has mock-ups of passenger and cargo planes, a control tower and other features that instructors routinely set on fire or fill with smoke or both, giving firefighters real-life experience.

D/FW crews capped Wednesday’s dedication with a pit burn, a simulation of a fuel fire involving the facility’s A380 mock-up. Except for being shorter, the mock-up has the same dimensions and internal setup as a real A380.

With a resilient steel skin, the mock-up has been burned and saved numerous times.

No firefighters were inside the mock-up during the demonstration, but they do face flames and smoke during routine training. Supervisors inside the mock-up have safety switches to cut off the fuel if unexpected danger arises, instructor Chuck Knowles said.

“We want our customers to know that safety is No. 1,” he said.

The facility also can handle planes that the FAA might bring to D/FW for fire-safety research.

Crews from dozens of states and countries have trained at D/FW over the years. The new facility should broaden the outreach and can make the training relevant to visiting airport firefighters. Instructors can call up their home airports on display screens.

In the computer-equipped classroom, an instructor can place a particular aircraft on a runway at a real airport. The display shows the plane’s size compared to the lane of pavement it’s on and marks the quickest way to get there with a firetruck.

The display also can highlight the mechanical systems affected by a type of malfunction. For example, a fire on a plane that has come in too fast because of a hydraulic failure might have been caused by overheated brakes.

If the brakes are made of magnesium, using water on the fire might cause an explosion. So the crew knows to use dry chemical suppressant instead.

The facility’s old classroom is a galley where trainees eat meals. They also can get a shower after a day of wearing full gear in the Texas heat.

Under a deal with D/FW Airport concessionaires, a different airport restaurant provides the meals each day.

D/FW Capt. Dan White took the opportunity to cheer for the home team.

“It’s not cheesy airport food,” White said. “They’ve got some good restaurants there.”


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