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      Firefighters battle over 40 fires on mock-airplane

      Firefighters from several mid-Missouri fire departments received training Wednesday that will help prepare them to fight airplane fires and how to respond to a plane crash scenario.

      The training took place from 2:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Wednesday afternoon as part of a week-long FAA-mandated class on aircraft rescue firefighting.

      The training is designed to prepare firefighters for a scenario in which a plane catches fire on the runway. Firefighters conducted about 50 burns on a specially-designed mock aircraft called the Mobile Aircraft Firefighting Trainer.

      "I had one woman ask me, is that the space shuttle?" Said trainer Mark Lee. "I said, no, it's a fake airplane training apparatus. She asked me how fast it goes, I said 70 miles per hour on the freeway!"

      Lee said, the equipment helps firefighters prepare for deadly scenarios in ways not possible without it.

      "At most of the airports, the firefighters are stationed at those airports, and that's their primary job. They may not see a fire for a while compared to firefighters that are in the city and have more fires to respond to. So with more fires, more practice, there's more confidence in what they do."

      The Mobile Aircraft Firefighting Trainer, or MAFT, doesn't come cheap, with a price tag over $1.5 million. Firefighters began using nearly full-size aircraft fire simulator in March, after an older unit that had been in use for 12 years got worn out.

      "We got this unit through MODOT aviation department. Since we train people, they let us have it here and operate it. When we have to practice and make sure the unit works, Columbia Regional has the benefit of getting more burns done in a year," Lee said.

      Lee said through the course of an average training day, his crew conducts between 40 and 50 training simulations. He said, the simulator is used by fire departments across the midwest to train their men and women on how to save lives.