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Preparing for an aircraft disaster: at a community and technical college in Minnesota, a specialized training program is preparing rescue workers to face one of the most terrifying kinds of accidents.

Response and rescue workers at the site of an airplane crash require a specialized training, and when large commercial airliners or military craft go down, that training could mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of people. Because of the large amounts of fuel carried by airplanes, accidents often involve quickly spreading flames from ignited fuel spills; therefore firefighters must be able to analyze the situation almost instantly and then respond accordingly if there is to be any hope for survivors.

Simulating a Crash

One place where aircraft rescue firefighting is being provided is at Lake Superior College, a community and technical college in Duluth, Minnesota. The school's high-tech fire training simulator offers the opportunity for advanced hands-on training.

The simulator is a two-thirds-scale mock up of a 757 airplane that is 75 feet long with a wingspan of 57 feet. There is a burn pit that is 125 feet in diameter. The simulator has 98 computer-controlled burn segments, 13 separate types of fires, and what the schools says is an almost unlimited number of programmable fire scenarios. The maximum flame height is 50 feet, and the internal temperature reaches 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the ceiling. In a full burn, the maximum fuel consumption is 1,780 gallons in three minutes. Billowing smoke and 50-foot-high propane-fueled flames bring a terrifying spectacle to mind for an average citizen. "It gets your attention," says Dave Sarazin, the emergency training program director at Lake Superior College, in the typically understated manner of the professional who is accustomed to facing danger.

According to Sarazin, there are probably 30 other types of simulators for this training, but he believes that none of them are as complex as the one at his institution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appreciates the environmental friendliness of the Minnesota school's simulator, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) likes the safety aspects. Because of the valving system and the use of propane fuel, it can be shut down in two-and-a-half to three seconds.

"The EPA likes it because it doesn't pollute," says Sarazin. "OSHA likes it because it is infinitely controllable."

World-Class Training

The Lake Superior College aircraft rescue program also has two classrooms, four equipment bays, a staging/assembly room and a decontamination apparatus instructional area. Support facilities include a control tower, wastewater treatment facility, holding pond and propane storage tanks. With support from approximately $15 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, the 95-acre site was opened in 1994.

Classes in the program include an eight-hour course on spill fires and wheel, baggage and cabin fires. A two-day refresher class is geared toward situations involving large-frame aircraft. The 40-hour aircraft rescue firefighting course includes two-and-a-half days of live fire training and classroom instruction on basic knowledge of aircraft systems, military aircraft, tools and safety. There is also a 16-hour class on aircraft rescue firefighting vehicles.

The aircraft rescue and firefighting program at Lake Superior has not just drawn trainees from Minnesota. Firefighters have come to the school from across the United States, and sometimes even from beyond our borders. Among the countries that have sent firefighters for training at the facility are Canada, England, France, Mongolia and countries in Central and South America.

Securing a Safe Future

Democratic Congressman James Oberstar represents Minnesota's Eighth District, which includes Duluth. He is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was involved in the legislation for federalization of airport security screeners and universal baggage screening. Oberstar is one of those supporting legislation to incorporate existing training centers into "Homeland Security."

Sarazin believes his facility will find a way to fit into the training plans of the legislation. "We will probably be involved in some of the training that comes from the Homeland Security issues," he says.

Sarazin noticed that his program got more attention than usual following 9-11. He sees that, after the events of that day, "Everyone is a little more aware that law enforcement and firefighting personnel get called on to try to change outcomes more than anything."

The media was interested in talking to the students in the associate of applied science in firefighting program. "They were interested in seeing if this was still what the students wanted to do in light of the events of 9-11," Sarazin explains. "Invariably, the students said yes. They all said that now they have even more resolve than before."

For more information about aircraft rescue training at Lake Superior College, visit or e-mail

RELATED ARTICLE: Training through simulation.

The term simulator for many people brings to mind images of video and arcade games, but these devices are being used for much more than just fun and games. They are being used in training for the most serious of life and death situations.

Simulators recreate the experience of an actual situation through the use of sights, sounds and movement. Simulators and their related applications have been developed by different public and private organizations, but in 1982 the Institute for Simulation and Training (IST) was established to provide better communication and a common source of supporting academic studies in the field.

IST is a research unit of the University of Central Florida (UCF) and is internationally recognized for its role in advancing simulation technology. For emergency medical treatment, researchers at IST developed ways to link simulators to model the occurrence and treatment of mass casualties. The combat trauma patient simulator at IST simulates casualties for treatment by combat medics using a human patient simulator. It is also used to train EMTs in civilian mass casualty exercises.

Emergency management training programs developed by IST in partnership with the U.S. Army help train crisis managers, EMTs, fire rescue personnel and hospital medical staff. IST's emergency management train the trainer program focuses on programs in managing hazardous materials spills, counter-terrorism operations, natural disasters and mass casualty incidents. According to IST, they will work with organizations to help them design and develop their own training programs.

In March, the University of Central Florida announced that it had received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fund research by members of the psychology department and the Institute for Simulation and Training to improve airport security screener training.

The UCF research team is led by research scientist Dr. Stephen Fiore, associate research scholar Dr. Florian Jentsch and associate psychology professor Dr. Clint Bowers of the psychology department's team performance laboratory, and Dr. Eduardo Salas, psychology professor and research faculty member of IST.

The $140,000 FAA grant will be used to find ways to help security screeners quickly become proficient in recognizing visual cues to dangerous items hidden in passengers' luggage. According to UCF, existing studies indicate that expert screeners may need fewer visual cues than novices to recognize patterns that lead to identification of items. The UCF team hopes that, by isolating the pattern recognition techniques used by the expert screeners, they will be able to then incorporate those techniques into the training curriculum for the new security screening personnel.

"This grant represents a unique opportunity to meld some of our current research with such an important issue," says Fiore. "We are all very excited to do our part in helping aviation security."

As program director for human systems integration research at IST, Salas studies team training, decision making under stress and performance assessment. In April, he participated in a U.S. Congressional briefing on The Human Response to Disaster. Featured speakers represented four scientific disciplines as they relate to disaster response: geography, psychology, human factors and sociology. Salas represented human factors and presented "Responding to Crises: The Science of Team Performance Under Pressure."

For more information about the University of Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training, visit
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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