DFW Fire Chief Ignites a Learning Shift

June 5, 2015

Audio mixing combines multiple recorded sounds into one or more channels. As part of the process, an audio engineer manipulates the source signals’ level, frequency content, dynamics and more and adds special effects. These creative treatments produce a musical mix that appeals to listeners.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Fire Chief Brian McKinney reports his background as an audio engineer on the weekends, for artists of the caliber of Grammy-award winning artist India Arie, aided him in crafting a cutting-edge aircraft firefighting and rescue (ARFF) training program at the third busiest airport in the world. When asked to revamp the airport’s Fire Training Research Center (FTRC), McKinney tapped into this background to mix different teaching techniques in a progressive learning environment.

McKinney, who began with the airport ARFF team in 1987, started tweaking ARFF training in 2003, when then-Fire Chief Alan Black, currently the Director of Public Safety, asked him to revitalize the center. As McKinney repaired, replaced and relocated the training program, he says he found himself thinking a lot about how people learn. “At the time I had three militant young children … and as I watched how they learned, and I talked to them, I realized there was a huge generation gap in learning,” he explains. “My kids would always say, ‘Dad it doesn't work like that now. You have to think of it this way. Let me show you how.’ ”

McKinney says he eventually realized these generational differences would soon affect students coming to the center to train. “I realized that we really needed to upgrade, not just the nuts and bolts, but how we reach people,” he says.

The culmination of his efforts and innovative training philosophy came in 2013, when the airport unveiled a newly renovated, $29 million, 8,000 square-foot Fire Training Research Center, which included classroom space, a control center, both propane and hydrocarbon fire burn pits and a full-size Airbus 380 (A380) mock-up trainer--the only one of its kind in the world with a focus on cargo and passenger training.

The center employs six full-time instructors and 18 adjunct instructors, who utilize a combination of research-oriented, multi-lingual curriculum, immersive digital activities and practical applications to arm students with the knowledge they need to fight aircraft fires and rescue passengers.

“Firefighters entering the profession are learning in ways previous generations did not,” says McKinney. “They are learning in the electronic age with iPads, touchscreen computers and tablets. To ensure firefighters have the best opportunity to learn, we have developed a smart classroom environment that mirrors the style of training/education most people are familiar with.”

Airport Business recently spoke with McKinney to learn how DFW keeps its training cutting edge and what it means to ARFF operations across the nation.

Why is regular training critical for ARFF teams?

Aircraft fires differ from structural fires in several ways. Aircraft tend to have higher concentration of personnel than a structure, close proximity of jet fuel and the high heat generated by the fuel, and the potential for high impact damage can make access difficult. Due to the inherent safety of modern day aircraft flying, aircraft firefighters cannot afford to be complacent. Constant training and practice helps these crews respond to an emergency as quickly as possible to provide the best avenue of escape for passengers and crew and quick mediation of the situation.

When firefighters respond to an aviation fire, they have to be in sync really quickly. You're also dealing with a potential mobile situation. The aircraft could be moving whereas a structure is stationary. And the job isn't over until everyone is back in service and everyone has gotten appropriate medical treatment. That is a huge responsibility.

How has aircraft fire and rescue changed since you entered the profession?

When I entered this field, we did what's called “surround and drown.” We would drive large vehicles to the scene and start discharging water to create egress paths for passengers. At that time, aircraft crashes or incidents were really not survivable and you were there trying to minimize the damage. What we learned from our two major crashes in the ’80s was that survival was possible. With Delta Flight 191, 136 of the 152 passengers and 11 crew on board survived, and three years later when we had the Delta Flight 1141 crash, and 84 out of 108 passengers onboard survived, we started to realize we had to start to really look at not just aircraft firefighting, but rescue. We had to build up our skills and abilities to get more aggressive, moving from a defensive to an offensive operation.

Tactically we’ve seen changes as well in the vehicles we drive. We now have vehicles with thermal imaging capabilities. They have forward-looking infrared cameras that can detect hot spots to help us direct fire attacks. We have HRET, which is a High Reach Extendable Turret, which allows us to pierce the skin of an aircraft and introduce agents into the environment more quickly. We've seen other technologies like PyroLance, where we can actually punch a hole through the skin of the aircraft to put out cargo fires inside. We now have high expanding foam that uses less water and more foam. We're seeing more science coming into the picture.

All of these things are among the reasons why we wanted to be a research center. We not only wanted to teach people how to fight fires and rescue passengers, we also wanted to research ways to do so more safely, quickly and effectively.

How has training had to change as technology and techniques changed?

Learning is habitual. You have to continue to exercise the actual tools and master them. What you don't want is for something to happen and your ARFF team to lack the necessary muscle to execute. We've incorporated all of these new devices, PyroLance, thermal imagers, HRET, foaming agents and so on into our scenario-based exercises to ensure using them becomes second nature.

Going from  a defensive approach to an offensive one also requires changing people's mindsets.  We wanted to develop a class environment that created a progressive platform where they could learn and understand these concepts.

How the center adapted training to today’s generation of learners?

Studies show you retain 20 percent of what you hear, 30 percent of what you see, 50 percent of what you hear and see, 70 percent of what you experience and 90 percent of what you teach. When you only have a white board, a projector and a PowerPoint, you're only hitting approximately 50 percent knowledge retention.

Our SmartRoom’s interactive ability helps students retain their knowledge by vividly engaging them. They see the systems, mechanisms and concepts in great detail, whether its aircraft familiarization, airport familiarization or firefighting and rescue strategies. Their minds are vividly engaged and enriched.

With near 3D animation, they can go inside an aircraft. They can see where the fuel is, whether a particular aircraft model has fuel in the wings or in the tails, what the hydraulic systems are on the aircraft, and they can even go into the cabin of the aircraft and walk down the aisles. They actually see how the doors open; how you move the latch to the side on a 737 and the door swings out and how on a 767  the door goes up and into the aircraft. They're able to go into the cockpit where they can hit the throttles and the bottles and discharge extinguishing agents, see how they function and where they're located inside the cockpit.

The second part goes beyond experiencing it. As I said, you learn 90 percent of what you teach. The students often become the instructors because the classroom becomes conversational. When they start to talk about each other's experiences it adds value. I'm learning from Tom. Tom is learning from Joe. And Joe is learning from somebody else because we're interacting and we're sharing our experiences.

What is meant by progressive training?

The training center offers a progressive-style education. We take them into the classroom, where they are engaged, enriched and visually stimulated. Then we take them into the field to learn in an actual Boeing 727. We put them in a smoke-filled environment where they can't see their hands in front of their faces. They have to do searches. They have to gain access into the aircraft using their tools and ladders and they have to drag a hose. Then we take them to one of our fire trainers where we introduce heat as well as smoke. Now they have to go into the aircraft and fight fire. Then we take them into a larger aircraft, our A380, where they have to fight fire on three different levels. You have the cargo level, the main cabin level and the upper cabin, and there could be fire in any one of those levels including the flight deck, cockpit.

In this way, they gradually graduate from one step to another step to another step. At the end they experience liquid hydrocarbon fires. We fight them with an environmentally friendly fuel.

Why is it necessary that ARFF teams have experience with the A380?

The A380 is the largest commercial passenger aircraft in the world. According to Airbus, it can carry up to 850 passengers. Your standard aircraft carries 100 to maybe 300 people. If there was an incident involving an A380, your mass casualty response could be up to eight times as large. And, because the aircraft is heavier, larger and can fly to any two points in the world, it has a larger fuel capacity. Airports across the nation have to be ready in case one of these aircraft diverts to them. We have incorporated the A380 into our training to give airports that do not receive scheduled service an opportunity to see the strategies and tactics that would be needed if this plane would divert to their airport due to weather, mechanical or medical emergency. We had four diversion aircraft A380s at DFW before we got the first scheduled A380 flight.

What types of research is currently being done at the center?

We recently entered into an agreement with the FAA Technical Center, which researches all things aviation. We've worked with them on the HRET, which pierces an aircraft above the heads of the firefighters that are operating it inside the truck. The angles that they're piercing the aircraft are often skewed. We're working with them on some dynamics to allow that process to be more seamless and streamlined.

We are in talks with a group from Norway to test their foam. In Europe, it's more environmentally friendly foam than what we currently use. We will be doing some comparison testing with them. We're also trying to bring on professors with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University so that we can start working on additional research projects with them.

The research component is really critical. As things in the industry change, our tactics and strategies need to change with it, staying ahead of the curve. For example, there is talk about new fuels in the aviation industry. We need to know what those fuels are and how our legacy agents like foam, and water react to those. Should we looking at a different type of agent? Should we looking at a different type of vehicle? Doing this research keeps us on the cutting edge of the industry.


On-the-go ARFF Training

The DFW learning management system (FTRSuite) allows students access to training and research materials anytime, anywhere they have an Internet connection. This additional training method will help airports worldwide save money and reduce environmental impacts for training, supporting the growing need for sustainability while staying current in the latest innovations and firefighting techniques. To learn how your airport can access FAA-mandated training content and immerse your ARFF teams in an interactive 3D universe with facilitated classroom collaboration and testing, visit www.ftrsuite.com/.

Meet McKinney (Please use audio mixing photo with this sidebar)

Diggin’ Digital. My kids introduced me to Vine. It tries to tell a story within 15 seconds. That to me speaks to the speed of learning.

Fire Safety at Home. When I went through fire school, we watched a video of a toaster catching fire and setting a house on fire. At home, whether it’s the toaster or the coffeemaker or whatever, I unplug it.  My family will say, ‘Hey, the toaster is not working.’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s because it's not plugged in.’

Working for the Weekend. I’m an audio engineer. I mix large concerts and things of that sort. I recently got to mix for India Arie. That was nice.