Thursday, April 03, 2014

Firefighters train with a new ‘prop’

Fort Hood firefighters had their first opportunity to test out the department’s newest training tool March 27 as they practiced putting out a live fire on a helicopter prop.

The Falcon X, a mobile prop helicopter trainer that replicates a mid-body, four-blade helicopter, is designed to light on fire in a controlled, safe manner.

“The modular pilot and burner systems can be used to create cockpit and cabin fire scenarios while integrated burners create engine fires that challenge firefighters with high heat and intense flames,” said Chief Sergio Campos, assistant chief of Fort Hood Fire and Emergency Services.

In addition to being mobile, needing only a 100-foot clearance zone, it is also safe and relatively environmentally friendly.

“The fire simulator allows the operator to safely control the training scenarios at the push of a button, while clean-burning propane fuel eliminates or minimizes environmental concerns,” Campos said.

“In today’s world, with the environmental concerns, we can’t simply just go out and burn houses anymore,” he said, referring to houses that had been donated for training. “It’s almost impossible to get something like that approved.”

However, having a live-fire training for the firefighters remains important, Campos said, and that’s what this Falcon X provides.

“With LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) being a clean fuel, it allows us to actually get real fire training,” he said. “You get the fire; you get the heat. Otherwise it would always be pretend.”

Because the Falcon X creates a live fire, certain safety measures are constructed within the prop.

“Anytime the fire stops, when the flame goes out, in order to not dispense any more raw fuel, it’ll shut itself off,” Campos said. “Otherwise, it could continue for a while and find an ignition source and become potentially hazardous.”

The new tool, costing roughly $90,000, will serve as supplemental aircraft rescue firefighting, or ARFF, training to what the department does annually at Texas A&M Engineering Extensive Service, also known as TEEX, in College Station.

“Due to the large-frame aircraft that come to West Fort Hood, to our Killeen joint-use airport, we’re required to have annual live-fire training on aircraft rescue firefighting,” Campos said. “And in order to fulfill the large-frame aircraft, we still have to go over to TEEX.”

The Falcon X, something the Fort Hood Fire Department had been eyeing for several years, Campos said, brings a TEEX-type tool back to Fort Hood.

“This allows us to actually do additional ARFF training,” he said. “And not only that, but it’s portable, so we can send it to Fire Station 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. It’s an enhancement to our ARFF capabilities. We can’t afford to go but once a year to Texas A&M, So this is giving us the ability to have live-fire training more often.”

In addition, the training also created a scenario for the firefighters to practice handline techniques and nozzle configurations while operating in pairs.

“We always operate in a buddy system, same as in the military,” Campos said. “For safety reasons, we always operate in two, anytime we’re doing anything physical.”

Campos said the department plans to use the Falcon X about once a quarter to every six months to keep the firefighters fresh.

Story and photo gallery:

Fort Hood firefighter Terry Blackburn has a grip on the handline nozzle as the crew prepares to put out the fire on the Falcon X, a helicopter prop trainer.