Airport Fire Fighters Can Now Train on a One-of-a-Kind Fuel Spill Burn Area
Apr 29, 2013

As airline passengers, we rely on the safety statistics from the National Safety Council that assure us that flying is the safest form of transportation. And if the mere question of “what if” enters our mind, we dismiss it. Fortunately, there are individuals around the world who dedicate their lives to the “what if” scenarios. Our lives are in their hands, but we never stop to question how they became qualified to serve in the role.


One of the leading training facilities for airport safety personnel is in our backyard. Since 1995, the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s Fire Training Research Center (FTRC) has provided training to its own aircraft rescue firefighting team and countless private and governmental agencies from around the world. Their aircraft rescue and firefighting teams are renowned for their excellent training and preparedness and have been offering Aircraft Rescue Firefighting (ARFF) and Structural training services in a facility unlike any other in the world. With courses including aircraft and structural fire suppression, incident management, ARFF emergency vehicle operations, and vehicle mass application, students not only gain the necessary knowledge, but also get to practice these techniques in a state-of-the-art training facility.


The facility includes mock-ups of actual aircraft, or trainers, that are designed to replicate actual conditions firefighters and safety personnel would encounter during an emergency response. In February, DFW Airport is going to pull back the curtains on airport safety when they unveil their latest additions and renovations to the FTRC.


The most unique part of the $29.2 million renovation program, is a mockup of the Airbus A380 aircraft, the world's largest passenger jet, for live fire training. This mockup, built by local firm FJW Construction, is a shortened version of the double-deck, wide-body jetliner, but is otherwise perfectly accurate in its height and access dimensions and multiple access points. It was also designed with three interior sections to provide different levels of internal firefighting: one configured like first/business class, one like economy class and one for cargo simulations. But what makes this mockup so unique is that it can be set on fire with the expanded propane burn pit or with the new 18,000-square-foot pit for liquid hydrocarbon fires. Liquid hydrocarbon, which is also referred to as tech fuel, simulates jet fuel in these scenarios. Having the ability to train with both types of fires is crucial because it encompasses many additional scenarios, including those of emergencies due to the presence of fuel oil and other chemicals present in airports.


The mockup also includes nine external and four internal fireplaces with multiple flashovers simulations that allow instructors to start and simulate various types of fires in various locations of the aircraft, including the cockpit, main cabin, engine, wheel/brake area, and cargo hold.

Another less visible trainer is the new 5,000-square-foot fuel spill burn area, referred to as the 3D mockup. It appears pretty insignificant, three rust-colored drums sitting above a pit. Yet this mockup allows firefighters to combat tech fuel fires spreading in three directions, thus the 3D name. The fuel goes up the center, vertical tank, then through a troth where the fire spills down to the two horizontal tanks at an angle. The firefighters have to not only put out the vertical fire, but the horizontal fires coming out both ends of the horizontal drums, without equipment from vehicles and using only hoses, known as “handline firefighting”. DFW Fire Chief Brian McKinney has stated that this type of training provides valuable experience with real-time flame spread, flame reaction and the unique heat associated with jet fuel.


The experience gained through these scenarios is invaluable and necessary to prepare not only the first responders, but also the incident command staff, for real-life incidents when they arise.



The expansion and renovation of the FTRC was inspired by the suggestions and recommendations of the FTRC training staff, who also serve as the airport’s firefighters. Their years of experience and actual incidents that have occurred at DFW Airport and other airports around the world influenced their input and influenced the design.


Once the design was completed, construction could begin. DFW Airport selected FJW Construction due to the company’s extensive experience in the aviation industry, especially in facilities management for DFW International Airport. And because of the nature of the project, the firm’s exemplary safety record and flexibility made it an ideal partner to the airport.


The 2,000-square-foot Training Control/Briefing Station Building and the 8,000-square-foot Training Building were a straightforward task. However, the installation and assembly of the A380 mockup and the 3D mockup/liquid hydrocarbon fuel pit and necessary ancillary components were challenging due to their uniqueness, complexity, and changes requested by the airport during construction.


The FJW Construction team’s flexibility was tested throughout the project, especially when additional project funding became available. During construction, the airport became the recipient of a federal Airport Improvement Program grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. Once these additional funds were made available, the airport requested that the construction team evaluate and price a number of additional improvements. The most notable addition was to change to the mockups’ drainage system.

The contract originally envisioned manually operated drainage to the two mockups. Although a seemingly simple task, drainage is actually extremely complex at this training center. Consider that during any given training, the students are using either 30,000 gallons of water or a soap-based foaming agent to fight the fires, which are either propane or tech fuel-fed. In addition, environmental regulations prevent discharging cooling water into the storm or sewer system until acceptable limits of contaminants are present. Depending on the condition of the water, it may be filtered and treated to meet Federal regulations before discharge to the storm or sewer system.


If a propane fire is fought with water, the propane burns off and the remaining water is sufficiently free of contaminants, so it can go into the storm sewer system. However, hydrocarbon fires leave particles that must be extracted from the water before the water can be reused or disposed of. If the foaming agent is used, it will drain into the pits which are filled with water that then has to be treated. This process forms a sludge that must also be extracted. Once the water is treated and reaches acceptable levels, certain amounts can be drained into the sanitary sewer system, while the rest goes into the storm sewer or is reused in the pits.


In order to make this process as user-friendly as possible and to reduce human error, the airport decided to use their recently-acquired additional funding to automate the drainage. With construction already underway, the FJW team worked quickly and diligently to make changes to allow for the automated system. Computerized system controls were put in place and connected to the command center.


Other necessary project components include two above ground storage tanks to hold the sludge and chemical debris extracted from the water and one 40,000 gallon underground tank that accumulates water from pits until processing, which occurs at 50 gallons per minute, is completed.


The project also included refurbishing of the propane burn pit and control system, and upgrading the existing stormwater and sanitary sewer drainage to capture and manage water contaminated during training exercises.


On January 04, 2013, FJW Construction successfully completed the project. The FTRC can now resume training national and international personnel in their new Control/Briefing Station Building which serves as a mock operations control room, and the new Training Building that has a 120-person classroom that can be divided into three separate areas. In addition, the airport's original Briefing Building was converted to a galley for trainees and break-room.


Now that the project is completed, airport officials note that the improvements to the FTRC facility couldn’t be more timely, especially the new trainer. They expect a lot of activity because of the popularity of the enormous airliner. There are currently 86 A380 aircraft in operation and orders for almost 200 more, so first response teams and command staff are eager to train in the only dual-fuel A380 mockup in the world.


Airport Fire Fighters Can Now Train on a One-of-a-Kind Fuel Spill Burn Area