|Integrated Defense Systems|
|A Boeing fire truck sprays the AH-64 Apache helicopter Live Fire Trainer during a fire training exercise at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in Mesa.|
BY MARC SKLAR
Flames erupt from the cockpits, engines and sides of an AH-64 Apache helicopter. Balls of fire burst from the surrounding ground. The "boom" of exploding tires echoes across the flight line.
Firefighters from Boeing in Mesa, Ariz., move in immediately and spray their hoses. They search the fore and aft cockpits, open panels to detect smoldering fires, and douse the flames.
Was this a successful emergency response? No, it's the first practice run with the new Live Fire Trainer that the fire department at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in Mesa has just purchased.
The idea for the trainer came to Fire Chief Pete Jankiewicz during some off-duty hours. "I was standing in front of the casino in Las Vegas that has the volcano show," he explains. "I thought we could use the same technology of propane fires and water for live-fire training."
Jankeiwicz saw multiple benefits to bringing live-fire training to the Mesa site. "Of the hundreds of hours of training we perform each year, this is the most important," he said. "It will make a huge difference, training on something that looks like an Apache."
Previously, Mesa firefighters had to go to out-of-state training facilities for their twice-yearly live-fire exercises. The bill for that training was $100,000 a year. The new trainer costs about $250,000, so it will pay for itself in just a couple of years, Jankiewicz said. "It gives us a remarkable 70 percent internal rate of return."
The trainer itself includes individually controlled fire zones in the fore and aft cockpits, at each engine location, along the sides, in the auxiliary power unit area and on the perimeter around the aircraft (to simulate burning fuel, grass or debris).
An instructor can light or extinguish the fires at any point from a control panel at a safe distance, which allows an almost infinite number of fire scenarios. A safety officer with a cutoff switch watches the exercise from closer in and can cut off all the flames if there is a risk to the firefighters. Protected pilot lights keep the flames burning until the instructor or safety officer puts them out.
All of this is mounted on a flatbed trailer that can carry all the accessories needed to run the trainer at any location.
"There's also a propane cannon that makes a loud boom to simulate a tire explosion or ordnance lighting off," said Mike Aselstyne, vice president of sales for Pro-Safe Fire Training Systems, Inc. of Nobel, Ontario, Canada, which built the trainer. "When that goes off, you can see the firefighters react."
It took 18 months to design and build the trainer.
"There is nothing more realistic than this," said Mesa firefighter Anne Marie Guest. "It's a great piece of training equipment to have." Her co-workers agree. "It's as close to burning a real Apache as you can get," said firefighter Don Decker.
Environmental safety is another benefit from the trainer.
"It's totally environmentally friendly," said Jankiewicz. "It uses non-hazardous materials. The smoke machine is environmentally safe. We don't even need burn permits to run it."
When the trainer was under construction, Jankiewicz incorporated modifications aimed at getting the maximum use from it.
"We've set it up so in the future we can add wings, a propeller and wheels to resemble a small fixed-wing airplane. That would allow us to rent it to small local airports that don't have the budget for extensive live-fire training," he adds.
Of all the great savings and benefits of the trainer, one stands out to Jankiewicz and his team. "We need to play this like it's real, so if it really happens, and we hope it never will, we are as ready as possible to respond and save lives."
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