Members of the Cayman Islands Fire Service tackled a mock airplane blaze last week as part of a two-week training course to prepare firefighters for potential aviation disasters.

According to a press release from the Fire Service, the firefighters experienced “real conditions in real time” during the Aviation Bridging Course at the fire training ground.

A life-sized mock airplane, which roaring fires can be set in and around, was set up at the training ground to simulate situations firefighters might encounter in a real disaster.

Chief Fire Officer David Hails said the bridging course gave the firefighters, who are more accustomed to dealing with domestic fires, an opportunity to learn about aviation firefighting.

“What we are trying to do is introduce a level of flexibility within the Cayman Islands Fire Service,” he said. “Right now, we have two distinctly different departments, we have aviation and domestic. Our aim is to cross-train personnel so they have the ability and knowledge to work in both departments. That gives us more flexibility and increases our capability to provide a first rate fire service for the Cayman Islands.”

During the exercises and training, seven firefighters and a supervisor learned how to function as a team to rescue passengers, set up proper evacuation paths, deal with visibility issues such as thick smoke, create survivable conditions and react to any number of situations.

The training was led by Watch Manager Lee Goupillot from the International Fire Training Centre in northeast England, who traveled to Grand Cayman to help train the local firefighters.

“Structural firefighting has a more controlled approach in regards to time frame, while aviation has to work on an extremely strict time frame,” he said in the press release. “This time frame is around three minutes, so if there was a major aircraft accident the fire crews have approximately three minutes to control the fire and start the rescue process.”

Firefighters also took part in a four-day classroom course with 20 lessons, designed to develop an expert level of knowledge about aircraft and aviation fire techniques, Mr. Goupillot said.

He added, “We taught them everything from aviation communication to the different terminology used when fighting an aviation fire, as well as everything about an aircraft, its construction, how it flies, how it stays in the air, how it lands. We also looked at components such as engines and undercarriages, what happens after an incident occurs and how you preserve evidence, because after an aircraft accident there will be an investigation.”

Chief Hails said it is important for firefighters to receive this type of training on a quarterly basis.

“Firefighters don’t go to aircraft fires every day, so it is vital to get the exposure on the fire ground to ensure that everyone has maintained those skills, and that they can fight aviation fires practically and efficiently,” he said.

Fire Officer Nicholas Peralta, who took part in the training, described the experience as an “eye-opener” for him as he had not undertaken any aerodrome training before.

“I now have more confidence in myself, and if we did have a real aviation fire emergency I would know exactly what to do and how to handle the situation,” he said.

Leading Fireman Duronnie Myles, who joined the Fire Service in 1999, said he had been fighting domestic fires for 17 years and never knew what went into aviation firefighting until now.

“Being able to get this type of hands-on experience has been unbelievable. I have learned so much in the classroom and on the training field,” he said.

On Friday, the firefighters were tested with 50-question multiple-choice technical assessment.

Mr. Goupillot said once the team passes the aviation exam, they will receive their certification, which is internationally recognized.

“Making the transition from domestic firefighting to aviation can be difficult; however, this group has adapted extremely well and is eager to learn what needs to be done,” he said.

While Cayman will continue to send firefighters off island to take part in IFTC training, group training courses will now take place regularly on the fire ground, Fire Chief Hails said.

“The training facilities were assessed and it was decided that the facilities were good enough to carry out training on island and then bring the expert from the U.K.,” he said. “To have the instructor come to this location and participate in training is a massive bonus for us and it is very cost effective as well.”

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