Inquired: how to train in your tunnel

  25. April 2017

The fire services responsible for the airport BER Berlin-Brandenburg have been training for five days beneath the airport terminal. Markus Vogt, a senior instructor of the International Fire Academy, participated as an instructor. We asked him about the possibilities and limitations of such a training in a tunnel.

A five-day practice in a tunnel is not exactly a common routine.

Markus Vogt: Yes exactly. Once the airport is opened, there will be hardly such a possibility again. In a 24-hour business, mostly only a few hours in the night are available for training. This is not enough time to set up railway carriages and build a comparable scenario. Due to the intensive, multi-hour practice in their tunnel, which becomes the operation site in case of an incident, the firefighters were able to improve their local knowledge excellently.

So, you should use the time before a tunnel is opened for traffic for extensive training?

Markus Vogt: By all means. However, this requires that knowledge has already been conveyed beforehand and detailed training has been conducted at least at the station. In addition, the instructors must be well prepared. In Berlin, we supported five instructors of the airport fire service who had previously completed a train-the-trainer course in Switzerland, with two instructors of the International Fire Academy. With such a staff, you can achieve a lot in one day. Conversely, this means that if there is zero knowledge before such a training, it pays off almost nothing.

How do you assess the results of the training in Berlin?

Markus Vogt: The firefighters have seen and experienced very much. If they only correct what they have identified as improvable, it would mean a massive increase in performance. That does not mean that everything is perfect. But the whole effort and the costs paid off.

For comparison: in Berlin, we have trained more than 150 firefighters in a week. For this, we would have to offer five courses at the International Fire Academy, which would generate several times the cost.

When practising in the own tunnel, many procedures can be implemented during training just as they are during an alarm. What are the limits of such training? What cannot be simulated?

Markus Vogt: Originally there was the idea of filling the tunnel with artificial smoke. But it wouldn't work with such a volume, respectively the cost for a correspondingly large device would simply be too high. The fire attack was also practised without fire. This is hardly possible in a real tunnel without endangering the tunnel infrastructure.

With eight waggons, we had a good stock in Berlin. This "furnishing" with vehicles is usually a big problem - not only in railway tunnels. Even in street tunnels, it is a big effort to place ten vehicles. And still, the tunnel looks almost empty. For comparison: at the International Fire Academy, the technicians need up to two days, in order to reposition the many vehicles in the almost 300 m long training tunnel, even with the vehicles basically standing ready at the portal. Such traffic can hardly be simulated in a real street tunnel.

What does that mean in conclusion?

Markus Vogt: One should be aware of the possibilities and limits of the different training options. It is not about choosing one option. We rather analyse together with the fire services approaching us, what possibilities they have and what can be done at their station, in the tunnels or in our tunnel training facilities and which option is the most fitting one. This also depends on the budget. Therefore, for many fire services a discussion with us is very helpful in order to identify their needs and their available options.

Markus Vogt is a senior Instructor of the International Fire Academy and Head of Consulting. He is continuously in contact with fire services who are responsible for a tunnel, explains training possibilities, accompanies training courses and exercises on site and in tunnels and teaches at the tunnel training facilities in Balsthal and Lungern as well as in the Tactic Centre of the International Fire Academy. 

To download the training report click here: "Five day training in a tunnel“

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