Royal Canadian Air Force Fire Service
All photos courtesy RCAF
A MODEL-T FORD carrying portable extinguishers, and operating from a fire station at the edge of an airfield at Camp Borden, Ontario, in 1918, was the humble forebear of today’s Royal Canadian Air Force Fire Service. Part of the Royal Air Force at that time, the fire service dwindled away to nothing following the war. From 1924 until the Second World War, there was no fire service as is known today. The few stations which existed were responsible for their own fire protection, and responsibility was met by assigning airmen on a part-time basis to fire-picket duties. Only three RCAF stations had fire trucks. The remaining stations relied on hose reel carts placed through the station area.
In 1940, when the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan began to take shape, the large number of flying stations which were built made the need for organized fire protection imperative. The first fire fighters were trained under the supervision of the Ontario Fire Marshal, but later the increased demand necessitated the opening of an RCAF training school at Trenton, Ontario. At its wartime peak, the fire service numbered approximately 700 people, serving in Canada and overseas.
In 1947, when the RCAF began its postwar expansion, for the training of NATO students, fire fighting services once again assumed an important role, and a re-equipment program was begun. The first to arrive were triple combination pumpers and 1,000pound dry chemical crash trucks. Later foam crash trucks were introduced as the flying program enlarged.
The fire fighting school moved from Trenton to Aylmer, Ontario, and then on August 28, 1955, was permanently established with other ground trade schools at the RCAF Station, Camp Borden. Today the RCAF Fire Prevention Services have approximately 1,200 personnel under the direction of Squadron Leader B. C. Quinn, Air Force fire marshal, with his office and staff at Air Force headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.
The fire departments at individual stations have roughly the same problem to cope with as municipal fire departments. Air Force fire fighters, however, have one major commitment not generally encountered by their civilian counterparts, namely, that of dealing with fires in crashed aircraft. Although, fortunately, not too many hours are spent in the actual fighting of such fires, a great many hours and a great deal of equipment are taken in standing by and in training. When called upon, Air Force fire departments cooperate with neighboring municipalities. The RCAF looks with pride upon its fire service, as it is truly an international humanitarian service. Many of its members are from overseas fire departments, with the United Kingdom being well represented througout its ranks.
The aim of the fire fighting school is to teach the basic principles and fundamentals of fire prevention, protection and extinguishment as applicable to buildings, equipment, aerodrome protection, aircraft crash fire fighting and the rescue of passengers and crew members. Courses given include: Basic fire fighter supervisor, RCAF civil personnel structural fire fighting, civilian crash rescue and automatic fire protection systems.
The fire fighter apprentice is given a basic course of 23 weeks, which includes five weeks driver training; the remaining 18 weeks are spent in trade training. The potential fire fighters learn how to use the tools of their trade; study academic subjects; use and maintain hose, ladders, breathing apparatus; operate fire pumpers; operate fire alarm systems, extinguishers and forcible entry tools. A drill and fire tower is used to show students how to scale buildings, use hose streams, effect rescues, practice ventilation and extinguish structural fires. This phase of their training occupies 12 weeks, leaving six weeks for the last phase of their schooling in the use of dry chemical and foam, as employed in crash rescue.
The fire fighter apprentice during his aircraft rescue phase is required to enter burning aircraft and carry out simulated rescue procedures. The “mock-up” aircraft is constructed of corrugated iron. In and around this training aid, gasoline is poured and ignited. This provides a suitable blazing and smoke-filled inferno into which the student fire fighters must enter and effect rescue of dummies realistically placed throughout the structure, in conjunction with an extinguishing attack and control of the fire.
The greatest problem encountered in such training is, of course, overcoming man’s natural fear of fire. Continuous practice under good leadership and direction instills confidence in the trainees and develops their potential abilities. The RCAF crash fire fighting course is not confined to Air Force personnel, but also has been given to personnel from the Department of Transport (Air Services), Bell Telephone (Mid-Canada Line), Canadian Pacific Airlines (maintenance personnel) and Northern Electric.
Continued on page 891
RCAF FIRE PROTECTION
Continued from page 779
Since the supervisor’s course commenced in June 1956, over 200 warrant officers and senior NCOs have successfully graduated. This course of 14 weeks duration brings fire chiefs up to date on latest fire fighting and crash rescue techniques.
Civilian personnel of the Air Force fire service are given a course as their duties demand; the courses are of seven and 14 weeks duration respectively in crash rescue or structural fire fighting, or both. All RCAF civilian personnel are civil servants. A unique program was undertaken by the RCAh last year after the USAF moved out of a base in Newfoundland. All the civilian fire fighters were replaced temporarily by airmen in order that they could be trained together as a team in RCAF methods at the driving school at the RCAF Station Aylmer, and as fire fighters at the fire school, RCAF Station, Camp Borden. It is believed that this undertaking was the first of its kind in any department, and from all reports, this method of training has produced a more efficient organization than was anticipated.
A special four-week automatic fire protection systems course is conducted for personnel of the Department of National Defence Protection Services (Navy, Army, RCAF and Civil Service). With the progression of automatic protection systems in the armed forces, demand for this type of course is great. Students learn the operation, inspection and maintenance of complicated systems. Subsequent to the establishment of the fire school, efficiency, standardization and training of fire departments throughout the RCAF has improved materially and will continu” to do so.
The fire fighter apprentice graduates as a standard group and after 12 months he becomes eligible to sit for a Group 1 trade examination. A further period of 18 months and he is eligible for a Group 2 examination. His Group 3 is taken after a further two-year period in his trade. All fire fighters receive trade advancement (on-the-job training) of 100 hours a year. Lectures and special instruction on new equipment are given in these periods. He also takes part in fire department drills, both structural and crash rescue. Only the most proficient personnel are recommended for promotion through the ranks, after they are Group 3 tradesmen. Duties in the fire halls are based on 56-hour week, with special time off for statutory holidays. At all fire halls sleeping accommodations and kitchen equipment are provided for the benefit of the personnel on duty.
All Air Force stations have street box fire alarm systems. Automatic fire detection systems in building transmit directly to the fire hall via the street alarm system. Control towers have direct crash alarms to the fire halls, plus radio control of crash trucks and ambulances.
Inspection duties and maintenance of equipment takes a large portion of the fire fighters time. All buildings and fire fighting equipment located in them are inspected each month; building equipment receives a maintenance overhaul at six monthly periods. Married quarters are inspected twice a year for fire hazards, a report is made out, and the occupants receives one copy with remarks as to the action to be taken to remedy any fire hazard. This report is returned to indicate that action has been taken. At the time of the next inspection, the inspector will check the old report to see what was noted and if any further corrective action is necessary.
Fire training is given to Air Force civil employed personnel, plus lectures on fire prevention in their own trades. Much time is spent by fire departments in teaching children of servicemen in what to do and what not to do in fire prevention. This program is accomplished through the cooperation of the principals at the Department of National Defence dependents schools.