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Firefighters in action during the exercise

Biggin Hill Airport’s Rescue & Firefighting Service joined with other local firefighting units, police, ambulance and Red Cross personnel on Monday evening this week in a realistic simulation of a major aviation incident involving an aircraft with 35 passengers on board.

The nighttime exercise was designed to test the effectiveness of the airport’s Emergency Orders and the performance of all Emergency crews involved.  Also under scrutiny was the overall incident coordination between the various agencies handling their respective tasks.

The simulation, staged in real time, began at 5pm when Air Traffic Control (ATC) initiated a Full Emergency for an inbound aircraft with 35 passengers on board.   The pilot had advised difficulty in deploying the main landing gear.  The ATC action instantly mobilised the airport Rescue & Firefighting team and all local emergency services.  The landing incident took place at 5.17 close to runway 21, by which time all external services were on the airport and ready for action.

A group of 35 volunteers from within the London Borough of Bromley, many of who were students from Bromley College, provided the simulated passenger complement.  They were seated in the cabin simulator to await rescue by the emergency teams.

Under the stark lighting of the five fire tenders on site, the firefighting team quickly quenched the flames using two foam tenders, following which rescue teams with breathing apparatus entered the cabin to assist and escort the passengers to a safe area before transferring them to the airport Terminal.    Injured passengers would be taken direct to hospital.

A Survivor Reception Centre had been established at the Terminal by the Red Cross, headed by Pauline Jenner, an Operations Officer allocated to their Early Response Team.  Assisted by seven volunteers, each survivor was interviewed as if for real to establish personal details, home contacts, onward journey and medical care if required.  A Red Cross blanket was provided to all ‘survivors’.

Pauline Jenner said that the exercise was a very worthwhile experience.

“The volunteers get to practice what we teach them and this vital service puts the Red Cross on show as an example of what we do in the community” she said.

Christopher Pokorny (17) from Sydenham, a pupil at Bromley College, took the role of a surviving passenger.

“It was a strange experience in the darkness, exciting and scary, but I did feel safe and in good hands” he said.

Stephanie Dewick (18) from Beckenham who is studying Public Services at Bromley College said that ‘it was very weird in the cabin in the dark – but an interesting experience’.

Following the exercise, all personnel engaged in the exercise attended a de-briefing session in an aircraft hangar where Fire Training Officer Mick O’Brien hosted a 30-minute discussion on reaction and points for development.

At the conclusion, Andy Mellers, Airport Senior Fire Officer, said that the night exercise had been a most valuable experience for his team from the Rescue & Firefighting Centre.

“To have the opportunity to work so closely with all our emergency service colleagues will, without doubt, ensure our preparedness in the unlikely event that we are faced with an incident of this nature.  I would like to thank all of those volunteers who very generously gave up their time to act as our casualties” he said.

Daniel Cartwright, LFB Borough Commander, who witnessed the full exercise, added his approval of the practice opportunity.

“I am aware that a great deal of planning went into arranging this exercise to ensure that it presented sufficient challenges to everyone attending.  It was therefore pleasing to see all the emergency partners working so effectively together.   The successful resolution of an incident such as this will depend on good understanding and familiarity amongst the different services of each other’s safety systems of work to ensure robust decision-making and coordination of people and equipment.  Regular joint training will ensure that all incidents attended at Biggin Hill Airport – no matter how big or small – will be resolved quickly and effectively with minimal disruption and risk to the public we serve” he said.


Emergency evacuation team in breating apparatus



Stephanie Dewick (18) emerges from the cabin after rescue

Red Cross volunteers interview survivors at the Reception Centre