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  • Firefighting is the hottest job at an airport so here at yourHeathrow we’ve gone behind the scenes with Airport Fire Manager Gary Barthram.

    Joining the Airport Fire Service in 1988 for London City Airport as a fire fighter, Gary moved to Stansted in 1990 before transferring to Heathrow Airport in 1995 and moving up the ranks to Airport Fire Manager. He describes his job as “an ideal match with great diversity in a really dynamic and interesting location”.

    Behind the scenes Q&A:

    The diversity, every day is different. When I arrive on shift, I never know what my day is going to throw at me. Being able to serve the airport community when there is an emergency or an incident is something I love. I know if a serious situation goes as we plan, lives can be saved. In my present role as Airport Fire Manager I take on the role of Silver Commander on the incident site for the Airport Fire Service.

    We use a mock-up of a 747/MD11 aircraft made of steel to re-enact fire scenarios. The mock-up aircraft has internal and external parts such as the fuselage, undercarriage and an engine along with beds, seats and compartments. It also has the ability to be filled with cosmetic smoke to allow crews to train for search and rescue operations when visibility is virtually nil.

    As we also attend domestic fire calls, road traffic collisions and serious medical calls within the airport boundary, we have a drill tower and use old vehicles to practice casualty extrications. The police provide us with a selection of cars every few months so we can cut them up, remove the roofs and doors in practice scenarios.

    Firefighters by nature enjoy attending incidents and helping people, that’s why they join. Even though our adrenalin may be pumping attending an incident, we have to be prepared for the fact that there could be a devastating outcome for another person. We also have to be very careful when using the word “exciting”, as an integral part of the job is remaining calm at incidents that often provoke all sorts of emotion. A successful day for me would be to attend an incident, deal with it effectively so that no one is hurt and provide a good professional service to both internal and external stakeholders.

    We don’t really have an average day. We attend to all sorts of incidents. We attend to anything that is life-threating at the airport or on the roads around it; this could include a heart attack air or land-side, a drug mule incident where a passenger has transported drugs within their body and has ended up in a serious condition, or a car crash that we have to cut a victim out of.

    We all have set duties to do every day and night including practical and theoretical training, testing and inspections, and cleaning of vehicles and equipment. The crews have to keep physically fit so we give them time for physical training and provide facilities to do this. Obviously if we get an emergency call then everything is put on hold until the emergency is dealt with.

    We have a maximum of three minutes from time of call to time of attendance. The Airport Fire Service is different to the Local Authority Fire Service as we have much tighter response times set by the Civil Aviation Authority. The requirement is due to aircraft on the airfield, the size of the aircraft, and the large amount of passengers and fuel involved. Once in attendance, all of the crews are trained to assess the situation in front of them and act dynamically without the need for orders in the early stages of an incident.

    • In 2012 we attended 1018 calls consisting of aircraft, domestic, medical and special service incidents.

    • There are four watches under the Airport Fire Manager’s command, consisting of 27 personnel on each watch. The teams do 12 hour shifts, averaging 42 hours a week and covering the 24/7 operation.

    • Our Major Foam Tenders can produce 5,600L of water and foam per minute and hold 11,200L of water. We have just taken possession of a new fleet of 8 Foam Tenders with the latest technology to enhance our operation on the airfield.

    • We have a 42m aerial ladder platform – the highest in the country. We need this to reach to the top deck of an A380.