AFOA Chairman Simon Petts welcomed a limited 30 delegates to its recent mini conference held at Brighouse, West Yorkshire. The event provided an opportunity for many to meet industry peers in-person for the first time since the association’s annual conference held back in February 2020.

Jon Lacey Assistant Chief Fire Officer at West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and the recently appointed National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Air Transportation Lead encouraged AFOA members to become involved with the Air Transportation Group’s workstreams. With a core objective of ensuring effective collaboration between airport rescue and fire fighting services and local authority fire and rescue services, the Group’s new Terms of Reference includes:

  • The review and dissemination of safety critical information from incidents
  • Acting as a source of professional advice to the NFCC
  • Providing a means of maintaining professional knowledge
  • Acting as a network for advice and information
  • Sharing good practice.

In his role as NFCC Air Transportation Lead, Jon is also keen to promote training across the sector, especially collaborative and joined-up training involving airports and local authority services, including shared airport exercises.

Jon ended with an in-depth look at the work of the Fire Standards Board including its strategic, cultural, enabling and service delivery roles. AFOA members are also encouraged to input into relevant future standards, such as airside training standards for local authority fire and rescue services.

The impact of the pandemic on airport rescue and fire fighting services, the aviation sector as a whole and indeed individual lives was a key theme through the event and informal discussions.

In his capacity as Chief Fire Officer at Gatwick Airport, Simon Petts took delegates through the aviation sector’s Re-Start Assurance, sharing how Gatwick has been working with the CAA to identify and mitigate operational challenges and risks arising from the impact of the pandemic.

He began by reviewing immediate operational impacts that the outbreak of the pandemic and onset of the first lockdown created, covered in more depth in AFOA’s webinar earlier this year. These included staff shortages due to infection and the need for self-isolation among staff as well as longer term issues caused by redundancy, furlough and roster changes and the effects these have had on people’s personal lives.

At Gatwick the whole ARFF team have helped to identify, collate and prioritise the risks that the ramp-up of airport operations will cause. Areas covered in collaboration with the CAA’s assessment included: operational changes, including easements, furlough and redundancies; issues and risks arising from the pandemic and lockdown including Maintenance of Competence; restart risks and restart plans. The use of virtual tabletops via Teams and Zoom was highlighted as a key enabler for stakeholder engagement and emergency planning.

Simon Petts concluded his presentation by highlighting that the issues and risks arising from the ramp up in aviation operations is likely to be even harder than the challenges presented at the onset of the pandemic. Key issues are likely to include recruitment, staff retention and training, heightened by the planned ending of furlough in September and the likelihood that the aviation sector may be one of the last to return to normal business.

AFOA has decided not to hold its traditional full-scale conference in 2021. Its next event will be held at The Emergency Services Show at the NEC, Birmingham on 7th and 8th September. In early December it is planning to hold another low-cost Mini Conference focused on training challenges facing the sector. A further mini conference is planned in the first quarter of 2022 with the next full-scale conference scheduled for 2023.

After the conference delegates moved to the nearby Venari UK facility for the launch of the new Z6 ARFF with the opportunity to get up close to the vehicle from all angles including the cab. Venari also introduced their growing range of vehicles and equipment for the emergency services sector including a new small fire truck based on the Ford Ranger pickup.