The Airport Fire Officers Association (AFOA) conference took place on 12–13 February 2020 at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole, UK.
John Purdy AFOA chairman* welcomed delegates to the AFOA 2020 conference, giving a summary of activities undertaken by the association in the last 12 months including the annual general meeting at The Emergency Services Show.
He reported that AFOA is seeking more engagement with suppliers at airports and broadening communications both via external communications consultants and via the association’s new website. AFOA also helps membership with support on legislation and standards issues, as in its recent dry powder tests.
Steven Owen Hughes, Chief Fire Officer of Surrey Fire & Rescue, gave the welcome keynote address holding up a copy of the HMICFRS 2019 State of Fire and Rescue Report by Sir Thomas Winsor. He detailed the many challenges currently facing all fire services including lessons learnt from Grenfell, counter terrorism, implications of Brexit, the lack of diversity in fire services and problems with a toxic culture of bullying and harassment.
Moving to more positive messaging, he emphasised the importance of collaboration in the fire services including joint command and emergency planning. Recent successful examples include Surrey’s joint call centre with West Sussex FRS and the development of a Dynamic Cover Tool with both Heathrow and Gatwick airports. He reminded delegates that local authority fire services remain heavily reliant on airport fire services to provide cover in numerous scenarios, such as a plane coming off a runway.
Neil Gray, Principal Aerodrome Inspector, Civil Aviation Authority, began his industry update by outlining possible impacts of Brexit. The UK’s membership of EASA will be covered under Brexit negotiations. The CAA wishes to continue to co-operate with EASA in a similar way to other European countries like Iceland and Switzerland. It is possible that the CAA will be subject to a USOAP audit in late 2020 or 2021, part of which may include visits to ‘undertakings’, i.e. UK airports.
He paid tribute to the recent work undertaken by AFOA to provide an AltMoc (Alternative Means of Compliance) for dry powder, allowing airports to carry lower quantities of Monnex powder. He also shared the latest CAA reports on contaminated runways. Inconsistency of reporting in this area can be a cause of misunderstandings and accidents. Workshops are being run on this subject and winter trials of a new reporting format are underway. Attending delegates were invited to get involved.
Kevin Woolsey, CAA Policy Lead Unmanned Aircraft Systems explained the New EU regulations covering UAS that come into force on 1 July 2020 with categories of Open (hobbyist), Specific (requiring operational authorisation) and Certified (capable of carrying people). Only the police, military and government are authorised to use affectors** as a counter-drone measure.
He also told delegates that a Drones Bill is expected in June or July of 2020. This is currently work in progress, with a review in place to look at any unexpected consequences of changing the legislation relating to drone affectors.
Elfed Jones, Fire Service Manager at DRFS RAF Valley delivered a comprehensive case study of the Red Arrows hawk incident, covering all aspects of the ARFF service response. Delegates were led through the key moments and decisions. On 20 March 2018 an incident occurred in which the pilot ejected just 1.5 seconds before the aircraft impacted. The rear occupant of the two-seat jet unfortunately died.
Beyond a review of all the technical issues including response times, media used and effectiveness, Elfed Jones also touched on a wide range of connected issues including TV and press management, the presence of bystanders with long lenses and the need to protect the privacy of the scene during the investigation phase.
He reviewed the PTSD and mental health protective actions undertaken by him and his team after what was a harrowing incident. He also highlighted the need for all rescue personnel to be aware of assisted escape systems (AES) featured on this type of aircraft, as they may potentially visit any airfield in the event of an emergency.
Alisdair Couper, Managing Director of event main sponsor Terberg DTS shared an overview of his company including details of its most recent vehicles, including the Oshkosh Ultra High Pressure ARF and a new vehicle specifically designed to fight multistorey car-park fires. He went on to highlight the growing incidence of ground support equipment (GSE) fires, before calling for standardisation in the marking of electric GSE vehicles with lithium-ion batteries. He closed by touching on the future challenges that firefighters will face from the use of autonomous vehicles in ports and airports.
Mark Buckingham, Head of Fire and Emergency Planning at Birmingham Airport gave delegates an introduction to the Joint Oil Industry Firefighting Forum (JOIFF) and explained that it has set up an Aviation Working Group looking at the storage and handling of existing and future fuels. Describing fuel farms as ‘sleeping giants’, he highlighted the key differences from aerodromes. Fuel farms are covered by the latest Control of Major Hazards (COMAH) 2019 regulations. The worst-case fire scenarios for fuel farms will not typically be controllable using airport fire service equipment, with different media and equipment needed. The working group is currently undertaking a project to review and understand the size and scale of the potential problem.
After expressing some surprise at the government’s lowering of the terror threat level in the UK at the end of 2019, Dr Dave Slogget, an analyst from Oxford University, explored in some depth the university’s recently undertaken counter-terror exercises. He highlighted that such exercises typically suffer from a collective lack of imagination and called for exercises to ‘fail’ more often than they do. Only in failure are the best lessons learnt. He also explored some of the latest terrorist tactics internationally, including the use of drones. The use of social media during terror incidents and exercises was also examined in detail. He reported that the university has developed an algorithm that can analyse social media posts to give incident commanders enhanced situational awareness.
Frankie Shaw, Engineering Support and Health & Safety Manager at the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), gave delegates a review of the past year, fortunately a relatively quiet one for the AAIB, and an update on the organisation’s role, responsibilities and current projects. He also shared in some depth recent research into the dust hazard from fires of MMMF composites (machine made mineral fibres). This has shown a rapid (inverse square) drop-off in particle concentrations with distance and confirmed that damping down was also very effective in reducing particle concentrations.
John Cairns of Cairns Consulting gave an authoritative update on the latest PPE legislation, product innovation and best practice, reminding delegates of the increased toxicity of smoke today due to the increased use of plastics; the much higher rates of cancer among firefighters and the recent work by the Fire Brigades Union to highlight the importance of clean PPE. He also called for greater use of the Swedish Skelleftea Model, which uses post-incident decontamination units similar to those used in the asbestos removal industry.
Dai Whittingham, Chief Executive, UK Flight Safety Committee, gave an overview of recent and historic aircraft evacuations, highlighting some of the many lessons learnt. He highlighted the importance of communication, the predictable unpredictability of passengers, the fact that every second truly counts, that evacuation is not the only option and that risks do not end with the aircraft escape.
AFOA committee member Waine Weaver gave delegates a brief tour on the new AFOA website and highlighted new features including incident reports, publications and news as well as the member-exclusive interactive forum for knowledge sharing.
David Plant, Global Product Manager – Firefighting Chemicals at Angus Fire, gave delegates a comprehensive overview of international legislation to limit the most harmful polluting effects of firefighting foam concentrates, including timelines for the banning of C8 and C6 PFOA in different countries. He also highlighted that although more expensive, fluorine-free foams are now much more effective than they were 20 years ago. He encouraged delegates to consider the whole-life costs of using fluorinated foams with the associated disposal and treatment costs of fire water and contaminated soils.
The highlight of the two-day programme was an inspiring in-depth case study of the Thai Cave Rescue given by Josh Bratchley, British Cave Rescue Council diver, who took part in the rescue. Josh took delegates through the extremely challenging nature of the rescue that took place under the intense gaze of global media attention. He was able to show how British cave rescuers were uniquely well prepared to help with the rescue, even though nothing quite like it had ever taken place before. Interesting lessons learnt included the fact that the divers did not have uniforms hindered their efforts initially, purely because they did not look like the experts. Josh also highlighted a personal moment when he rightly but apprehensively challenged the thinking of a more experienced colleague in a critical situation.
Delegates also received a summary of the two AFOA workshops that took place before the conference. The NFCC Workshop covered a new dynamic cover tool developed in use by Gatwick airport and adjacent local authority. A working group has also been established to look at digital communications and compatibility issues in firegrounds. The NILO workstream was also covered. A second workshop examined human factors.
*Since the conference John Purdy has stood down from the AFOA committee. Simon Petts has temporarily resumed as AFOA Chairman.
**Kinetic affectors can range from a shotgun to a shoulder-mounted net launcher, or a drone configured with its own net launcher. Electronic affectors can include jamming systems that interfere with GPS navigation systems, or control links operated over commercial radio frequency bands.
For more information, go to www.afoa.org.uk