London City – Part 4 – Fire Service – A job for only the brave

As you may have read this week, I had a great backstage visit to London City Airport last week. The last part of the visit was the on-airport Fire Service.

The team of firefighters have a number of jobs around the airport, beyond simply those you might expect in an emergency. They operate 4 fire vehicles, of various ages. Two have to be working to allow the airport to operate. Whilst I was there with the Red Watch Commander, he was waiting for a repair to one of their boats.


Yes, I was told, boats are essential for the airport to be open – two in fact, was the minimum.There is also a minimum number of Fire Fighters required to be on station – 9 is the magic number.

If you look at the airport on a map you might understand this requirement:

a map of a cityThere is an awful lot of water around the runway.

a yellow and orange fire truckThis is one of the Fire Tenders used by the airport Fire Team.

The Watch Commander explained that his team undertake a number of training exercises each month, and as we were at month end they didn’t have anything planned for the day. However, he was more than happy to do an exercise early, by moving an October training exercise forwards.

His team arranged to simulate an engine and under carriage fire, on the fire rig located at the east end of the airport.

The Commander took us over to the training area and asked us to stay near the car. As soon as they lit the rig you could feel the heat, despite being 250m away. Quite how hot it was for the guys standing right next to it I cannot imagine.


a firemen standing on fire

Getting the rig alight

a fire truck with a man on top

Fire fighter on top of the engine

Once the rig was alight, the crew started to tackle the fire. A short, sharp burst of water from the engine hit the flames.

a firefighter spraying water on a green tankThe three man crew then started to work with their hoses on the flames.

a group of firefighters spraying water on a large green machinefirefighters spraying water on a fire

firefighters spraying water on a large green tankThe team also showed me the contents of a container, which was parked at one side of the training area. Unassuming from the ourside, it turned out to be a unit used for the simulation of fires in confined spaces – for example aircraft interiors.

a dark room with wooden bars

Inside the container

The particular risk, I was told was that the gases which collect at the top catch fire, cutting off the fire fighters from their escape route. The training unit allows them to practice controlling the gases and how to fight their way from one of the unit to the other. The area around the jets above is filled with wood to produce the flames and gases required for the training.

a dark room with metal walls

I have to say you would have to pay me a considerable amount of money to be in a closed box trying to fight this sort of fire.

Whilst looking around the container, the team continued their training outside.

a firefighter spraying water on a green machineMy visit was a fascinating insight in to the work of the fire crew. Whilst I like many, have seen fire engines lined up near runways, it was remarkable how calm these guys were when face with very big things on fire! I have to say that I am comforted to know how well trained they are, but have to say that I never hope they have to come and save me – although if the worst happened I am sure they could.

More information about the airport is on their web site.

Come back tomorrow for my London City visit wrap-up


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