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Video: Inside London Fire Brigade’s Beckton training centre

Firefighters tackle flames during a training exercise Firefighters tackle flames during a training exercise

Thursday, August 14, 2014
12:04 PM

Firefighters of all ranks and abilities are being put through their paces at the recently opened emergency training centre in Beckton.

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Simon Redfern, trainer-responder for USAR, with a skills rigSimon Redfern, trainer-responder for USAR, with a skills rig

An unassuming double warehouse on an industrial estate houses the world-class 3,200 square metre centre offering indoor training in incident command, breathing apparatus and urban search and rescue.

The focus is on making training as realistic as possible with a “firehouse” offering one of the more authentic experiences.

There’s a distinct smoky scent on the approach – hardly surprising considering that, just as its name suggests, fires are started in the double metal-coated container to replicate real-life conditions.

As Adrian Dutson, breathing apparatus trainer, explains, firefighters tend to arrive on the scene after the flames have taken hold, but there’s a valuable lesson in learning how blazes develop to help them best do their jobs.

A firefighter enters the firehouseA firefighter enters the firehouse

So, terrifyingly, recruits kitted out with vital breathing apparatus enter one of the firehouse’s rooms to see a fire started up approximately ten metres away from them, with temperatures reaching up to 420C and flames rolling over their heads – before being tasked with neatly extinguishing the flames.

With double glazed windows and better insulation as standard in most buildings, though fires are becoming less frequent, ventilation is less of an aid to the emergency services.

“Firefighters don’t just need to get in there and get the fire out, they need to know what it is they’re looking at,” Adrian said. “This is an actual fire and you can’t get better than that.”

Incident command is tested and taught through the combination of a realistic simulation game and role play.

Oxygen cylinders in the training centreOxygen cylinders in the training centre

Crew managers upwards are presented with a scenario projected onto a floor-to-wall screen which could range from a small scrapheap fire to a plane crash, which they then have to decide how best to deal with from the moment they “arrive” on the scene while using a controller to walk around the site.

It’s a more practical way of testing and assessing skills than setting up a outdoors exercise with actual crews, and the designers can drop in real-life buildings to add to the authenticity.

Cameras and microphones in the incident command room pick up what is being said and changes on screen are made based on the commands received, while trainers can also change the weather and light conditions or even turn up the heat in the room.

There are four incident command rooms which can play out the same scenario, different ones, or the same one from different sides of the building, with crews working collectively to tackle the flames.

There’s an equally impressive training facility for USAR, the highly specialised team which find and rescue trapped victims from collapsed buildings and other disasters.

Walls of the assorted buildings – including a pretend shop and a three-storey house – can be adjusted to different angles based on the scenario and a rig allows technical skills to be sharpened.

Eerily, body parts are well hidden in a huge mound of rubble which, to the untrained eye, seems like an impossible task.

Yet trainer-responder Simon Redferry, who has worked in USAR for 11 years, assures me that shoring up buildings and using cameras on the end of extension poles to look for casualties is, for him, second nature.

With the Beckton centre replacing the facilities offered at Southwark Training Centre since 1878, Steve Gellard, operations manager for LFB’s training partners Babcock, says he is proud of what it offers.

“Southwark was a beautiful building but there wasn’t room for adaptation and expansion which affects what we could offer,” Steve, who worked in the fire brigade for 30 years, said.

“We needed a training centre for London Fire Brigade that was in the 21st century and, without sounding corny, this is what Beckton offers.”

Read more:

Boris dons firefighter outfit to open world-class training facility in Beckton

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