Airport Fire Department Prepares for Worst

By: Whitney Holmes
By: Whitney Holmes

May 9, 2005

The Charlottesville Albemarle Airport Fire Department lit a plane and the ground on fire.

No, they have not gone berserk. It is all part of training they do to prepare for what would be a passenger's worst nightmare.

"It could be anything from an engine fire, fuel spill, or EMS situation," said Nick Buongiorne from the State Department of Fire Programs.

These disasters are exactly what they deal with, in a controlled atmosphere.

Twice a year, the firefighters train on a state-owned mobile live fire training simulator. The simulator travels to nine certified airports around the state.

The simulator looks like a regular plane on the inside except it is completely made of steel to endure being engulfed in flames several times a day.

Firefighters go in and tackle the blaze while everything is completely monitored inside a nearby tower. In the event of any snafus, the fire can quickly be turned off. The heat, which can rapidly rise to one thousand degrees, is also monitored.

One of the reasons why this training is so important is because a fire in an aircraft is completely different than a fire in a house.

"With an aircraft fire, you have a lot of combustibles, and it can get up to two thousand degrees of heat. So the danger is quite quicker for the survivors inside," explained Airport Public Safety's Ross Holtzman.

"It's very tight working quarters. And there is a lot of people inside the airplane trying to get out," added Buongiorne.

A fuel spill of thirteen hundred square feet is also simulated. This scenario is not only useful for runway mishaps, but roadways as well.

"In the event that a truck were to turn over on Route 29, we can give [the other divisions] basic training on flammable liquid fires," said Holtzman.

This is all in a day's work for the firefighters to keep your worst nightmare from becoming a reality.

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