Training for the real thing

As Airside goes to press (August), one of the world’s most sophisticated firefighting simulators is going into service with the City of Chicago Fire Department at Chicago O’Hare International Airport


The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) and the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) have collaborated on the acquisition of a new, state-of-the-art large frame aircraft (LFA) simulator that will be able to facilitate more realistic firefighter training across the board in terms of aircraft fires, but especially on the ultra-large B747-8 and A380 aircraft that now fly through O’Hare.

In fact, through its LFA – built by Simulation Live Fire Training Solutions, Inc and based around a composite B747 and A380 – Chicago can now boast one of the most advanced aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) training sites in the world, CDA believes.

Commissioned last month (July), it was expected to be ready for service right about now (August).

“Safety is always our top priority at Chicago’s airports, and we are fortunate in our strong partnership with the Chicago Fire Department, who always provides a swift and effective response to keep our passengers safe,” said CDA commissioner Ginger Evans last year, when the initial procurement plan was announced.

“Thanks to support [from] our airline partners, investments in fire training technology will ensure firefighters are ready as O’Hare begins to receive bigger aircraft and an increased international capacity in the years to come.”

“Ensuring that Chicago’s already world-class fire training facilities are equipped for changing demands of the industry could only be achieved through close co-ordination with Chicago’s airline partners at the CDA,” added José Santiago, CFD commissioner. “These investments will allow CFD to offer unrivalled training and technology for thousands of firefighters in the city and across the region, supporting Chicago’s dedicated airport first responders in achieving a new level of excellence.”

The new simulator required an investment of US$7.3 million to cover acquisition and preventative maintenance, paid for by CDA’s airline partners through airport funds. It features a rotating cabin that offers realistic training in handling a major aircraft accident.

The combination of smoke and live fire that can be generated by the simulator, as well as the sheer size of the LFA – it is a three-deck model 35ft high – will provide much more realistic exercises than have previously been possible for training Chicago’s firefighters expected to deal with fires and other dangerous situations on today’s ultra-large aircraft.

Touchscreen software technology for those overseeing exercises will allow for better monitoring and easier control of fire and smoke production, new audible effects will make for more realistic representation of real life, and the LFA simulator offers the ability to detect firefighters’ location within it.

The system will be accessible to first responders for airports throughout the region. O’Hare houses the Chicago Fire Department Regional Training Facility, which in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other federal requirements for emergency response, supports mutual aid at the airport by other area first responders.

In addition to training ARFF teams serving O’Hare and Midway International Airports, the training system at O’Hare also doubles as a training centre for several other regional gateways in the area, including Rockford International Airport, DuPage Airport and Chicago Executive Airport.

City of Chicago assistant deputy fire commissioner Timothy Sampey – who is in charge of fire rescue operations at Chicago O’Hare and Midway airports – recalls that the process of acquiring and putting into action the new LFA facility has been a long but very worthwhile one. “The whole process [of design, development and procurement] has been about a decade in the making,” he informs.

And Sampey should know. He was heavily involved in determining the required specifications of the system, and has been involved all the way through to the development, integration and testing phase of the LFA, right up to the system’s entry into service.

He is convinced that the LFA simulator represents a step change in training capability, especially useful given the recent arrival at O’Hare of ever-larger aircraft such as the A380 super jumbo that requires very particular training. “It’s a unique system,” he says. “The current facility is good, but this is so much more.”

The LFA simulator is not only much bigger, matching the three-level configuration of an A380 (upper deck, maindeck and lower deck baggage/cargo hold); it can also realistically represent the interior of such an aircraft (it can be kitted out in three classes – for example, coach/economy, business and first).

The range of fires and smoke that can be produced by the system is more wide-ranging than those of its predecessor and, with the fires it creates being based on liquid propane rather than fossil fuels, more environmentally friendly. It has fully-functioning A380 and B747 doors (on different sides of the LFA), so that firefighters can become accustomed to entry and exit through the different models, and emergency slide exits can also be simulated. It has a cargo door, and fire can be simulated in a ULD on the lower deck of the LFA as well as on the two passenger decks above.

Sampey notes that all members of his fire department (250+ firefighters) will be required to train on the simulator, while he has already received many phone calls from other agencies wishing to gain access to the training facility. And that is important, given that CFD works closely with many different agencies and bodies from around the region as it covers its various responsibilities – at O’Hare, as well as ARFF it is required to provide assistance in terms of emergency medical services (EMS), dealing with hazardous materials (HAZMAT) and tackling structural fires (ie, fires in airport infrastructure such as terminals).
Airlines operating through O’Hare have been delighted by the procurement of the new technology, as might be expected, Sampey remarks. And CFD works closely with the airlines operating through the airports at which it provides ARFF coverage, he notes.
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport (DFW) has a similar LFA simulator, although it doesn’t have all the unique features of the one at O’Hare, and plenty of other US airports are looking at acquiring such a training capability, Sampey suggests.

The LFA simulator is the latest in a series of investments to support firefighter training at O’Hare, including a live fire simulator and virtual reality driver simulator. According to a statement from CDA: “CFD’s record of response and mitigation at O’Hare and Midway has far exceeded federal requirements and will continue to achieve and surpass new standards as CDA undertakes a number of capital investments in the coming years to grow O’Hare’s international capacity and modernise its operations.”

And Sampey confirms that he is looking at a range of new simulator aids to support CFD training, perhaps in terms of a helicopter simulator, or structural (airport infrastructure) simulator. “We’re always looking for more realistic training aids,” he concludes. n