Green and Jackson firefighters prepared for disaster Tuesday by teaming up for special training at the Akron-Canton Airport Tuesday.
Normally, the sight of an airplane fuselage in flames near an airport runway would be cause for alarm.
For two local fire departments, the burning tube of metal just outside Akron-Canton Airport Tuesday morning was part of a training exercise designed to prepare them in the event of a plane crash or incident at the facility.
The training session, which lasted nearly two hours, brought together firefighters from Green and Jackson. Because the airport borders both municipalities, both departments must be ready to respond and assist airport personnel in the event a plane crashes or catches on fire.
"Part of our responsibility for the city of Green is that we cover the Akron-Canton Airport," said Capt. Jeff Funai of the Green Fire Department. "We're just practicing and maintaining those skills we would need (in an emergency). We go inside the plane and do the rescue and any interior firefighting."
Funai explained that, in the event of an emergency, the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting trucks (ARFF) based at the airport "cut a swath" through to the damaged craft. Firefighters then respond to the scene using the same skills they hone in such training exercises.
The firefighters' skills were tested by four separate drills.
After forming teams, each crew of firefighters began with the task of putting out a wheel fire.
Their test took place on a simulator built and transported to the scene by Fire Force Inc., a company based in Groveport, just outside of Columbus. In addition to a replica of a wheel well from a small plane, the company also provided a replica of a wing-based engine, a fuselage from a 50-seat passenger plane and a simulated section of a plane that might break off from the rest of the aircraft in a crash.
Fires on all of the apparatuses for the training session were fueled by liquid propane, with Fire Force employee and Westerville firefighter Todd Shepherd controlling the flames through a series of hoses and nozzles that allowed him to shut the gas off in an instant in the event anything went wrong.
Working in teams of three or more, firefighters used their hoses to put out the wheel fire. Fire Force owner Gene Shepherd, who runs the simulation with his son Todd, explained the importance of taking the correct angle when approaching a wheel fire. He instructed participants to approach from a 45-degree angle for maximum protection in the event a burning wheel exploded, as such an explosion would send debris flying to either side of the wheel.
The second drill was putting out an engine fire, with flames from the burning engine replica jumping as high as 15 feet off the ground. Next to the engine fire exercise was a large apparatus built to simulate a piece of a plane that might break off from the rest of the aircraft upon impact in a crash. Flames leapt up through metal plates sitting two feet off the ground on a platform. Teams worked through the basic framework of a plane's cabin, putting out flames as they rose up and communicating with hand signals.
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The final exercise of the day was the largest. Groups of three firefighters entered the large section of fuselage with seats inside. They had to work their way through flames which shot at them from all directions. The previous night, a training session for the North Canton Fire Department proved how real the exercise could be as a kink in the hose allowed the fire to get too hot, melting one firefighter's helmet shield before the exercise was stopped.
Gene Shepherd, at the controls for the propane supply, cut off the flow of gas immediately and instructed the firefighter to drop to the ground. The shield was destroyed, but the firefighter did not sustain any injuries. Todd Shepherd said he and his father haven't measured the temperature inside the simulator, but estimated that it could reach as high as 1,000 degrees.
Firefighters from both departments said they hope to never need the skills they had worked on, but expressed confidence in their ability to do so if needed.
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