Heat from the flames distort the appearance of Campbell River firefighters taking part in Saturday's training exercise at the airport.

Mock airport emergency keeps firefighters ready

Volunteers fight flames and take part in rescue scenarios at Campbell River Airport

Fire fighters battled several fires at the Campbell River Airport last week in mock aircraft disaster scenes.

Mobile fire simulation equipment was back in the city  last Friday and Saturday to get the last half of the city’s firefighters through training.

The multi-million dollar equipment, which is based at Edmonton International Airport, was previously here in early October when most of the city’s 20 career fire fighters, and a handful of the 50 volunteer members, went through aircraft disaster training.

This time around, it was largely the volunteers who were put through the extensive training exercises.

“We come out and do training every year, but not to this degree,” said Deputy Fire Chief Ian Baikie. “This is new equipment to us. Propane is the only thing keeping the fires running, so there’s no environmental impact like with the old (diesel) system.”

The equipment, which is the only mobile unit in Canada and travels throughout Western Canada, includes a custom-built aircraft with a wing, landing gear and a motor.

With the press of a button, flames can be sent screaming through the passenger compartment, or ignited in the engine, spreading to the wheels of the plane.

Three large, metal mats send flames scorching across the pavement surrounding the plane, simulating a fuel spill.

Baikie said the mats produce a 5,000 square foot fire for the crews to tackle, with the help of the city’s maintenance crash truck.

The truck is housed at the airport and five airport maintenance workers are trained to operate the truck in the event of a plane crash. Fire Chief Dean Spry said although the workers can’t enter a burning aircraft, they can spread dry foam with the crash truck to provide a safe exit path for passengers.

Last week’s training was an opportunity for the maintenance staff to practice using the truck’s hose to pump out water in the event of a fuel spill.

Instructors from the Edmonton fire department watched from the mobile control room, while triggering blazes in the airplane and on the ground.

Baikie said the fire fighters were not told what the scenario would be in advance and didn’t know how many “victims” they were looking for.

The high-tech simulation equipment will remain in Campbell River until April 14, when firefighters from the Nanaimo area are expected to come for training exercises. After that, the equipment will move to Calgary.