Fireworks

Dubai Airport has upgraded its fire service in order to be ready for the A380. The airport has invested in new fire engines, enhancements to its control room and a steel aircraft for training exercises.

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By  Neil Denslow Published  November 5, 2003

I|~||~||~|On the 1st October, an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that had just arrived from Addis Adaba had to be evacuated at Dubai Airport. An airport worker spotted flames on the right side of the plane as it was taxiing in and alerted the pilot, who quickly ordered all 229 passengers and crewmembers to evacuate the aircraft. The airport’s fire service was soon at the scene and it quickly extinguished the blaze.

This incident, while unsettling for those involved, was fortunately relatively minor. However, given the number of flights landing at and taking off at the airport, Dubai’s Department of Civil Aviation has invested heavily in ensuring that the airport has well-trained firemen and state of the art technology.

That the airport has invested well was most clearly seen in September 2001, when an Aeroflot IL86 with 350 people onboard crash landed. The plane was engulfed in flames, but fire fighters were on the scene inside a minute. “We had firemen inside the plane spraying water while the passengers were still coming out,” recalls senior chief fire officer Richard Radford. “We didn’t have any fatalities or injuries, and we’re the only airport [in the world] that has had that type of incident and that success rate,” he adds.

Dubai’s focus on its fire service has become even more intense of late, as the airport prepares for the arrival of the A380. The superjumbo, which will carry 555 passengers, will be the largest commercial airplane ever to fly, and Emirates Airline has 45 of them on order. DXB needs to be upgraded in a number of ways in order to handle the plane, including enhancements to its fire service. These have already been undertaken and over the summer, Dubai became the first airport in the world to achieve ICAO category 10 (C10) certification.

The certification covers all areas of operations for the fire service, including its equipment, training and response time. The authorising body is the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, which overseas all airports in the country. “The GCAA makes sure we stick to that C10 status, and they have the ability to come here and inspect us at any time without prior notification,” explains Radford.

The first key requirement for achieving the certification is the number and quality of the firefighters at the airport. DXB’s three fire stations are manned by 114 firefighters, who work on a pattern of two 12-hour shifts a day, with a minimum of 27 firefighters per shift. “We never drop below 27 firefighters [on duty,]” says Radford.

The firefighters are kept in top condition through a constant series of training exercises. Each shift undertakes at least an hour’s worth of training, involving a number of different scenarios and exercises. “Training is something we do continuously,” notes Radford.

Training at the airport has been greatly enhanced through the purchase of a replica aircraft. Built by Cleveland Bridge, the steel model is an exact copy of an Emirates Airline Boeing 777. It is fitted out with a series of computer-controlled LPG nozzles, and it can be used to recreate a host of different fire-training exercises, ranging from internal fires to engine fires. “You can repeat [the same] scenarios every time you want to. That’s the beauty of it,” says Radford. “It is something that is unique in the region, and it all goes into C10,” he adds.

Alongside training its firefighters, the airport also needs fire tenders, and DXB has invested in a new fleet of Rosenbauer fire engines in order to secure the C10 certification. “The type of fire truck we had had to be looked at and changed,” notes Radford. “The [new] fire trucks were about Dhs 3.5 million each (US $955 000), so it was a big investment,” he adds.

The airport now has five Rosenbauer air-crash fire engines, four large Panther 8x8s, which are major fire tenders, and a Panther FL 4x4 rapid intervention vehicle. All the vehicles carry water, foam and dry chemicals in order to fight fires. The larger ones carry 14 000 litres of water, 1700 litres of foam,100 kg of monnex, while the smaller rapid intervention vehicle carries 6000 litres of water, 720 litres of foam and 200 kg of monnex

Like all fire engines, these vehicles were all custom made. However, Dubai’s requirements were a lot higher than most airports’ because of the need to attain the C10 status. “In Dubai, we actually delivered some of the highest performing vehicles that we make,” notes Herbert Poellinger, regional manager, Middle East, Rosenbauer.

Unlike regular fire engines found in municipal fire stations, air-crash fire engines are built for speed. Their job is to get to the scene of an aircraft crash as quickly as possible over any terrain, so they are lightweight vehicles with very powerful engines. The rapid intervention vehicle, for instance, has a top speed of 115 kmph. “The basic idea is to have the rapid intervention vehicle react to the accident as quickly as possible,” explains Poellinger. “If you want to have good acceleration then the truck needs to be light, which means you have to go to a smaller vehicle with a higher horsepower.”

“The main issue for Dubai was performance because even the big vehicles, the 8x8s, have 100 000 horsepower engines, which means these large vehicle can nearly perform like a rapid intervention vehicle,” he continues. “Acceleration for these big vehicles is less than 25 seconds from 0 to 80 kmph.”

Aside from speed, the fire engines also pack a host of technological features to help the firefighters tackle blazes. One of the most noticeable is a special camera mounted on the roof of the vehicle, which supports the driver’s enhanced vision system (DEVS). The system uses a forward-looking infrared device and enhanced vision technology to provide the driver with a view of up to 800 metres even in zero visibility conditions.

The vehicles also have enhanced roof turrets (or monitors), which are the main delivery mechanism for foam in fire-fighting situations. These turrets are able to spray foam up to 90 m, which was another key requirement in the airport’s certification drive, as they enable the firefighters to spray any part of an A380 from the same position. “Category 10 means a dramatic increase in the amount of water we need to be available on the fire trucks and an increase in the effective range of foam monitors,” comments Radford.

Alongside the air-crash fire tenders, the airport also has vehicles for fighting structural fires. This is a key distinction, and reflects the dual role of any large airport’s fire service. “Fire protection is not only being provided for the airplanes taking off and landing at the airport, but also for the structural buildings at the airport,” explains Poellinger.

DXB has enhanced its fleet with the recent purchase of a Rosenbauer fire tender to fight structural fires. The tender is like a regular city department fire engine, equipped for a range of operations, rather than the rapid intervention vehicle’s focus on pure speed. “It’s a totally different kind of vehicle,” says Poellinger.

“The focus on the air-crash tenders is performance and acceleration, getting out of the fire station as quickly as possible, over any terrain to the site of the accident, which means you have a high-performance off road vehicle like a rally car... The structural vehicles are geared for any type of accidents, it can be a rescue operation, like someone getting hurt, or medical cases, like a heart attack,” he explains.

||**||II|~||~||~|Also to help fight structural fires, the airport also has a pick-up vehicle with an ultra-high pressure system on it for extinguishing fires in tunnels, such as baggage conveyor systems. The vehicle carries a limited amount of water, but it is shot out of the turret at very high pressure to create super-heated steam. This can then extinguish the fire, but without causing significant water damage. “Instead of flooding a fire with water, the super-heated steam puts out the fire in a different way,” comments Radford.

Alongside the new fire engines, the airport has upgraded its two control rooms, which are located in Terminal 1 and in the main fire station. “Once we got the vehicles and equipment in place, we started looking at how we could meet our response time… [which is] to get anywhere in the airport in two minutes. We started to look at our control room and what needed to be done there to achieve this,” explains Radford.

The key enhancement in the control room was the installation of an integrated monitor and dispatch management system from Redflex Communications Systems called AlarmOn. Installed over the summer, the system acts as the focus point for all fire related activities within the airport. This includes everything from monitoring the 20 000-plus fire sensors in the terminal, which were installed by EST International, to communicating with fire engines and ambulances at an incident.

When an alarm is triggered, the system flashes the location on a touch screen in front of the operator and the Honeywell CCTV system focuses on the scene. Then, rather than the controller needing to refer to a manual, the touch screen system automatically guides them through the appropriate steps to be taken. The system also sends out pre-recorded messages in English or Arabic to the people who need to respond to the incident. “Our controller touches the screen to say the message has been acknowledged and the appropriate fire vehicle is immediately dispatched,” says Radford.

AlarmOn also integrates the fire service’s separate communication systems into the same unit. The operator is thus able to contact whomever they want to speak to — whether it be a fire crew, air traffic control or other emergency services — by touching the screen and then speaking into the handset. “They don’t have to deal with a separate monitoring system, a different phone system, a radio system,” explains Peter Harrison, general manager of Redflex Communications Systems. “It’s all presented to the operator on one screen, and they have one handset for the audio.”

The system also monitors the location of each firefighter, as well as automatically recording each step that the operator took during this incident. “When they do a post-mortem on the incident, the system will have an accurate log with a timeline indicating what the operator actually did and that they followed the emergency procedure,” notes Harrison.

However, while the fire service is now at a top level of readiness for current operations, as well as the arrival of the A380, it will need to grow as the airport expands. The new terminal and concourse will all require fire monitors, and the airport’s fire service will have to expand to meet the requirements of the bigger facility. The number of fire stations, for instance, is set to increase from three to five by 2006.

“We are at a vantage point as far as our firefighting capabilities are concerned. It is now a challenge for us to ensure that we stay ahead,” says Radford.||**||

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