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Training heats up airport certification course for fire departments

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By Brian Slattery

OCEAN ISLE BEACH — The fireballs Ocean Isle Beach firefighters and members of other Brunswick, Pender and Onslow county fire departments were facing last Thursday were part of their training.

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Firefighters working toward their certification for handling airport and airplane emergencies got out of the classroom and met at the OIB airport for some live action drills.

“It gives it a little more reality with the flames and the heat associated with it,” Brunswick County Fire/Rescue Coordinator John Winders said.

Ocean Isle Beach, Shallotte Point, Leland, New Hanover County, Nine Mile Point in Pender County and Turkey Creek in Onslow County sent firefighters to the 40-hour certification course offered through Brunswick Community College last week.

The course is taught by Cleveland Community College fire fighting instructors Alan Hicks and Robert Marley, who brought with them a full-sized decommissioned airplane to practice keeping a plane from going up in flames and treating and transporting the injured in the tight confines of the fuselage.

“The plane goes all over the state. It’s the only one in North Carolina,” Winders said.

The training also involved setting up a gas-fueled inferno for the firefighters to control.

“They are taught not to put out the flames but sweep the fuel away for the aircraft so passengers have a way out,” Winders said,.

Firefighters also practiced removing passengers from the plane and working their way to the cockpit to reach the fuel shutoff.

“They simulate firefighters dragging two mannequins from the front of the plane, then reach the point to simulate cutting off the fuel,” Winders said. “They learn about the cockpit — what to look for, what to avoid.”

Those participating in this course must already be certified firefighters and certified to work with hazardous materials.

“They’ve been in fuel oil fires, they’ve felt the heat,” Winders said. “The flames give a backdrop to what they (are learning), what they are supposed to do.”

Winders straddles a line by working for Brunswick County Emergency Services and Brunswick Community College to schedule courses to keep fire fighters maintaining or adding new certifications.

“At Brunswick Community College, we run a number of basic firefighter certification courses. Brunswick County has a lot of certified fire fighters and technical rescue certifications,” he said.

They also try to expand the offerings, which recently included wilderness search and structural collapse courses, Winders said.

“Brunswick is a growing county. We are going to need a lot more of these services,” he said.

Thursday’s field training put the coursework of controlling an aircraft after a crash into practice.

The firefighters finished the day practicing on each other, working on how to get a rescue crew in to get a firefighter who was injured or pinned in the airplane out.

Winder said the live fire training has also been held at the Cape Fear Jetport on Oak Island. Future airport firefighting certification training will use both Brunswick County airports.

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.