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Friday, October 14, 2011

L&B FireFighter Internship 2011

Angus Elliot - 4th Year MEng Student

This year myself and Alastair Temple were lucky enough to be picked to take part in the Lothian & Borders Fire and Rescue Service internship, and what an experience it’s been! The internship lasted a total of 5 weeks and took us round every aspect of the Fire Service and enabled us to get a fantastic insight into what they do, how they do it and how engineers can make their job easier and safer.

For our first week, we were to be based at the Scottish International Fire Training Centre at McDonald Rd, learning the basic skills we would need in order to make the most of our time with the Service.  Against all logic and common sense, the principle structure at the centre is The Ship. The huge ships hull, sat in the yard is completely dark inside and is filled with smoke and fire to enable firefighters to get as realistic an environment as possible to hone their skills. What would they do with us on the first day I wondered? Surely nothing too demanding, probably just a nice easy introduction and some simple tasks I thought. Wrong! Within a couple of hours of arriving we were fully kitted up in fire fighting gear and being given a crash course in setting up, servicing and operating the fire service breathing apparatus, or BA for short. What followed, we were told, was usually taught to recruits over the space of a week and involved an afternoon learning search and rescue techniques in the hot, smoky and completely dark ship in full kit! A real highlight was the ‘confined space’ test involving crawling through a purpose built narrow, multi-storey cage in the dark and finally lying down and pulling yourself through an even narrower 10ft long tunnel only just big enough to fit your shoulders and cylinder in. Not for the claustrophobic!! Most of the rest of the week was spent watching, helping to set up and also taking part in the various training exercises at the centre for the watch crews. A real eye opener into the skill and professionalism that fire fighters perform their duties with, and the level of pressure they can be under. On the Wednesday we were also able to spend the day with one of the instructors who was running a Fire Marshals course at the offices of a large company. This involved educating staff members on fire safety, evacuation and basic fire fighting skills (and also providing an excuse to try all the different kinds of fire extinguishers without being told off).  In the space of 3 days, were fully qualified BA wearers and Fire Marshals!

Week 2 was based at Fire Service Headquarters on Lauriston Road with the Business and Commerce department. The week was spent following their fire officers as they carried out fire safety audits on various commercial properties in the city ranging from care homes, bingo halls and industrial units. Although it may not have been as action packed as the previous week, it was interesting (and also frightening) to see for ourselves the range of fire precautions businesses use, from fully integrated systems and engineering, to hand held air horns and propane cylinders stored next to bronze kilns! You could get a real sense of the distance we still have to go to really get home the message of fire safety engineering, and avoid the completely preventable accidents which still commonly occur. On the Tuesday, a trip had been organised for us to visit the fire station at Edinburgh Airport. Here we were shown round the phenomenal equipment they had there and were also shown round all areas of the airport to learn about the complex fire systems they have in place there. We even got a cheeky wee tour up the Air Traffic Control tower! The next day we were also shown round Scottish Parliament, where even though it is a new building, there are still some seemingly fundamental fire design flaws when looked at closely.

Alastair and I split up for weeks 3 and 4 between Fire Investigation and Fire Crew Operations. I did fire investigation first, followed by a week following the watch crews at Tollcross fire station, and Alastair vice versa. The Fire Investigation branch is based in Livingston, shadowing the investigators whenever they were called to investigate the causes of a fire. Unfortunately for me, Edinburgh was being very sensible and there weren’t many call outs that week! I did however have the opportunity to accompany them to re-investigate the cause of a fatal fire at a chip frying factory in Duns. Picking through the wreckage of a completely destroyed building certainly opens up your eyes to the power of fire and what it can do to a structure.
The highlight of the week however, was the Fire Behaviour training day at Fillyside. The Fire service use Fillyside as their base in which to train crews in Fire Behaviour. It includes a full scale flashover unit, attack unit as well as a mock-house. The day included kitting up in full kit and BA and sitting in a shipping container in full flashover conditions. Inside the unit, temperatures range from 750C at 2m, to 400C at 1m and are enough to melt fire proof clothing! Inside we took part in the crew training exercise, taking it in turns to control the conditions with water. Although we were safety briefed and there was a safety team monitoring the exercise, it gave us a huge appreciation of the dangers caused by a fully developed fire and the effect it can have on humans as well as the structure. In terms of fire safety engineering, this day is absolutely invaluable and will be extremely useful in years to come during our studies, as well as being a lot of fun!

Next up was the week I’d been waiting for, a week ‘on the run’ at Tollcross fire station.  As Tollcross serves virtually the entire city centre, it’s the busiest of the Edinburgh fire stations. A majority of the calls were AFA’s, or automatic fire alarms, however on the Tuesday I was lucky enough to be in the appliance which was first on scene to a flat fire on the Royal Mile. It was an incredible experience to see the skill and professionalism of the fire fighters, and to see them implementing the training they’d been given at ‘the ship’. Even though it hadn’t quite flashed over, the flat was almost completely destroyed, taking with it all of the 93yr old residents possessions. A sobering reminder what we’re all up against in this discipline.

Alastair Temple - 4th Year MEng student

I was not quite so lucky (or maybe luckier depending on what point of view you take!) in that I didn’t manage to be on the scene of any fire in either week. Despite this I managed to see a lot of what the Fire Fighters do in the more “everyday” sense, from tests on all the equipment which is held on the appliances to once again getting acquainted with my notes and lashes. Or in the week at Livingston even getting a demonstration of the force of which car airbags deploy with and how to avoid accidently setting them off when performing a recovery at a road traffic accident. And I did get a glimpse of the professionalism of the fire fighters with the speed and no-nonsense reactions each time we got a call out to an AFA even though the likelihood was it would be a false alarm, they never take this for granted.
Week 5 involved us being back at the MacDonald Road training centre for half the week where we got a refresher with our BA skills and then helped prepare the centre for the weeks recruitment drive by being guinea pigs for the tests that they put wanna-be fire fighters through in their initial screening process. These range from a confined space test (like the one we did on the first day but with just the mask and without the tunnel) to check for claustrophobia, to a fine motor skills test where some equipment must be assembled and de-assembled within 5 minutes, to physical tests of of upper body and arm strength as well as general fitness. Suffice to say here I established that I am definitely not of the right build to become a fire fighter, some serious gym work would be required before I could haul the weight up two stories on the single pully! 

Our final day with the Service was the week after where we spent a day at The Fire Services Training College in Gullane, this is where all new fire fighters in Scotland go for their first 13 weeks of training after joining the Service. We got to see quite a few new things here including our first backdraft done in the back-yard of the centre which was really interesting to see. It also gave us another chance to get use your newly found BA skills (something we were definitely enjoying by this point!) in some more unusual situations as they have a roll-over simulated gas fire to simulate flashover. This was also great as it was the first (and only) time either of us had taken a camera down, and getting some photos of us doing some things, was… well… definitely worth it.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative 5 weeks and I would highly recommend applying for it to any Fire Safety Engineering students.

1 comment:

Andrew Bethune said...

How did you go about applying for this internship? I am interested in it as a 3rd year Fire Safety student but couldn't find any info on the website? Any help would be appreciated