Meeting annual training requirements for aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) personnel can be particularly challenging at smaller airports with small staffs, where firefighters often perform airfield maintenance in addition to their primary ARFF and operational duties.
Joplin Regional Airport (JLN) is making things easier for itself by using a training program that allows ARFF personnel to complete the vast majority of their training online.
"This program has really saved us some time and money," says JLN Operations Supervisor Peter Kaufmann. "We have a maintenance staff of eight people, including myself, who are ARFF-trained and certified. But we also have a ton of daily tasks taking care of the airfield, including snow removal, grass cutting, taxiway lights and other general maintenance jobs. Basically, we have ultimate responsibility for keeping our airport up and running."
Project: Online ARFF Training
Location: Joplin (MO) Regional Airport
2015 Flight Operations: 27,000
Fire Equipment: Oshkosh P-19; Rosenbauer Airwolf (both owned by airport)
Online Course Supplier: SSi
Content Development: Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport Fire Training Research Center
Course Modules: 11
Approx. Time Required/Module: 1 hour
Cost: $395/person; group discounts available
Computer Hardware Needed: Current desktop, laptop or tablet
Key Benefits: Saves time for students & administrators; eases recordkeeping; FAA-approved; greater flexibility for trainees
Previously, it was hard for the small Missouri airport to establish an ARFF training curriculum that included evolving updates. "Scheduling training was difficult with
a small staff, who were always busy with other day-to-day assignments that were of a higher priority," Kaufmann explains.
Things got easier, however, when JLN became an early adopter of an online program created by SSi, a software training company based in Arizona, and the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Fire Training Research Center (DFW FTRC).
Having a concrete, step-by-step program has made ARFF training a much more efficient process, reports Kaufmann. "With this SSi program, all eight people take the same course. I simply give the trainees a user name and password to the arffrecurrent.com website, and they can use their own computer or laptop to take each course when their schedule allows," he explains.
Content for the course was developed by ARFF training experts from within the airport industry to ensure that it is accurate and up-to-date, notes Scott Simpson, director of client services for SSi. Based on National Fire Protection Association standards, the program meets 14 CFR 139.319 ARFF training requirements.
"Throughout the development stage, we also worked very closely with the FAA, to ensure each course met its standards," adds Simpson. "With the support of the Fire Training Research Center, we have provided access to the FAA for review and are hopeful for their input."
The program uses quizzes throughout the training process to prepare students for an individual online test for 11 modules:
• ARFF Safety
• ARFF Emergency Communications
• ARFF Adapting Structural Equipment
• ARFF Tactical Operations
• ARFF Hoses & Nozzles
• ARFF Extinguishing Agents
• ARFF Aircraft Familiarization
• ARFF Aircraft Evacuation Assistance
• Aircraft Cargo Hazards
• Airport Familiarization
• Airport Emergency Plan
The final requirement for all ARFF trainees is an annual live-fire test, which can occur at an airfield or training facility such as DFW's, which SSi wholly recommends. JLN trainees usually complete their live-burn training and testing at Springfield-Branson National Airport, also in Missouri.
"It is only 70 miles east of here, and they have a mobile aircraft fire-training trailer (MAFT) they set up there every May that we use," Kaufmann says.
"The MAFT is capable of producing a wide range of realistic training scenarios, including a fully engulfed aircraft, a forcible entry situation or a 1,300-square-foot fuel spill burn area," he continues. "It incorporates a 50-foot aircraft simulator fuselage to challenge the aircraft rescue firefighters."
If trainees have scheduling conflicts in May, Kaufmann considers DFW FTRC a good alternative, because American Airlines has two daily flights between JLN and DFW.
With live training in May, Kaufmann schedules online training for September through May to minimize conflicts with the numerous outdoor projects the airport's ARFF personnel complete during summer.
DFW FTRC, the organization that developed content for the new online training program, is widely recognized as one of the leading facilities in the world for training airport-based firefighters. The airport maintains a staff of 220 full-time firefighters based at six different stations to cover its airfield and 28 square miles of structures. "We manage all structures, as well as any aircraft's first-response needs," states Randal Rhodes, assistant fire chief in the Career Development Division. A 23-year veteran at DFW, Rhodes is in charge of recruiting and developing the airport's firefighting team.
"We have five full-time certified instructors for training, plus six or seven people on shifts who help with classroom work," Rhodes says. DFW's FTRC facility is at the southwest corner of the airport, next to one of its six fire stations.
"We offer 20 different courses, and [train] 2,500 to 3,000 students a year, from 44 different countries," Rhodes reports.
Training is offered for a wide variety of fire and rescue situations, in passenger and cargo areas of aircraft as well as for airport buildings. An out-of-service Airbus 380 is used for training associated with large fuel spills.
"We started developing online training modules about four years ago. We thought SSi would be a good partner for us, since they had expertise in multimedia online presentations. We knew we had the expertise to provide all the content and script development," Rhodes says.
When SSi filmed footage for its new online ARFF course, DFW firefighters and a few local students served as actors to portray firefighters and civilians alike.
According to Rhodes, it took eight months to create the course's 11 modules. "We reviewed all of the storyboards," he relates. "I was the project manager, and some of our captains in the field helped out. We held a weekly conference call with SSi as we put this together."
"Fortunately, SSi already had a good relationship with the FAA," adds Rhodes. "When updated regulatory requirements came out from the FAA, we knew what we had to do. SSi did a lot of the background work for us in this area."
He describes the process of creating content for the modules as painstaking and time-consuming, but the production process as smooth and relatively painless. "Once we completed the script writing and storyboards, SSi personnel did all the videotaping in about five days," he recalls.
The current version of the online program is up-to-date through this fall, but Simpson and Rhodes expect they will eventually have to update and modify it. "If one of us learns about regulatory changes, we will act to modify and upgrade the modules,' Rhodes says. "We expect to have a decent amount of time to make any changes in the content, if necessary. There is always a public comment period before the FAA acts."
The latest upgrades to the SSi online courses were completed this summer. "Our software system is somewhat unique, in that we use HTML5 to produce the online courses instead of [Adobe] Flash," says Simpson. "We just completed doing this in summer 2016. All modules are now available with videos in high-definition. The HTML5 modules are more mobile, and can be used not only on a desktop, but on a laptop or tablet. With our new system, all courses are viewable full-screen, all in HD and with customized images and graphics for each topic."
According to SSi, four locations are using its online training program in addition to JLN: San Antonio International Airport, Bellingham (WA) International Airport, Freidman Memorial Airport in Sun Valley, ID, and DFW FTRC. "We are in active discussions with several other airports, and expect to add a few more this fall," Simpson adds.
The program costs $395 per person, with discounts for groups and customized services offered at extra costs. "For most clients, the training administrator will go over the whole installation with us on a webinar. It is quite simple," says Simpson. "For our larger clients, we will go on-site and work with the leadership team there."
Serving as the ARFF training administrator at JLN has been seamless for Kaufmann. "I am fairly computer-savvy, and setting this up for my staff was pretty easy," he notes. "I think I spent one hour training with SSi, and that was all I needed. I love that I don't have to call SSi or the DFW people. I can do all of this myself."
On a similar note, his ARFF personnel consider the program simple to use. "My guys had very few problems completing the 11 courses," Kaufmann reports. "It was easy to get each of them up and running, and then they were on their own."
The online program also helps JLN keep accurate records of employees' ARFF training-an FAA requirement that proves to be a hassle for many airports. "Our program does all recordkeeping automatically," says Simpson. "This is especially useful for airports that want to train not only [their own] firefighters, but those from other local municipalities as well.
Overall, Kaufmann is very pleased with JLN's new online training program. "It centralizes and standardizes everything, and saves everyone a lot of time," he summarizes. "For a small airport such as ours, that is a big deal."