Mufid Houmeidan, general director of the Fire School de Venezuela, has a live training prop at his Cabimas facility that rivals anything at the Texas Engineering Extension Service's Brayton Fire Training Field in Texas. Near the edge of a swimming pool a bright yellow cage that roughly conforms to the shape of a helicopter cockpit dangles from an overhead line .
"There are people in it when it is lowered into the swimming pool," Houmeidan explains.
Two students are fastened into the cage using seat belts but no breathing apparatus. As the cage is lowered into the water, it pivots sideways to simulate a real helicopter swamped by waves. The students must free themselves and swim away to safety. To insure against drowning, SCUBA equipped divers standby in the water.
"We also have a simulated rescue in which the helicopter is rigged in a controlled environment to be dropped off a tower," Houmeidan said. "Then the rescuers have to go in and get it." However, unlike the water landing simulation, nobody rides in the dropped helicopter. (To see a video of the water drop, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcKL5rKDbKI.)
Fire School de Venezuela is the only school teaching industrial emergency response in Venezuela. It is also one of 15 international industrial cooperative learning centers around the world operated in affiliation with TEEX.
Houmeidan and Manuel Aguilar Alvarado, director of the Unidad Nacional De Capacitacion Y Adiestramiento (UNCA) in Mexico City, also a TEEX cooperative learning center (CLC), were on hand in July for the 47th annual Industrial Fire School conducted at Brayton Fire Training Field in College Station, TX.
Houmedian's school operates 10 training props, including the helicopter rescue drops, a ship project, pipe rack and a gas well Christmas tree. Aside from fire fighting, the school teaches rescue, hazardous materials handling and emergency medical. On a weekly basis, the school handles 60 to 70 students, some from as far away as Ecuador and Columbia.
The school employs 15 instructors and is hiring more.
"We use all the NFPA standards that are required, the same level as in the United States," Houmeidan said.
Chris Framsted, TEEX International Training Coordinator, handles South/Central America, Asia and the Carribean. His counterpart, Mark Jackson, handles the Middle East. Both work for TEEX's International Program Manager, Rick Isaacks.
"Our industrial cooperative learning centers are schools that are already developed around the world," Framsted said. "What those schools look for is nationally or internationally accepted teachable TEEX curriculum."
The curriculum developed and taught by TEEX belongs to TEEX, he said. Written by the experts in the subject matter, development of a training program can be a huge expense.
"The training centers we have around the world utilize TEEX curriculum," Framsted said. "All the instructors are certified to TEEX standards, as are all the training props. So what you are getting is the same course you would be getting here in College Station without having to travel all that way."
During the International Fire School at Brayton, instructors at the cooperative learning centers serve as guest instructors since most of the Brayton personnel are not bilingual. Houmeidan brought 10 instructors to the school in July. Before opening the school, Houmeidan worked 20 years in refinery fire protection, becoming the fire chief at one of the biggest refineries in Venezuela.
Most of the training centers have fire ground props reflecting the specific hazards faced in local petroleum facilities. Besides curriculum, TEEX provides consultants who advise when new props are added.
"The props are on a much smaller scale that we have in College Station but, for the most part, they are the same props as we have here," Framsted said.
According to Framsted, NFPA standards are accepted internationally by TEEX's CLC's because they are the foundation of the TEEX curriculum.
"Since 2001, TEEX is a ProBoard teaching institution," Framsted said. "Now ProBoard itself is growing to be an international certification rather than just a national one." Worldwide, TEEX issued 7,000 ProBoard certifications in 2008.
However, sometimes differences between NFPA and locally accepted standards must be addressed, he said.
"For example, in Trinidad and Tobago, they primarily use UK fire standards," Framsted said. "NFPA and the UK do have some significant differences. But the TEEX courses offered at a CLC are based on NFPA standards and the training props also have to be to NFPA standards. We cater to countries in the Caribbean that want NFPA."
In many cases, the training centers have fire fields equipped to handle both industrial and municipal emergency response. However, Alvarado's UNCA does not operate its own fire training ground. Instead, UNCA instructors are dispatched to locally owned fire fields throughout Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Columbia, Costa Rica and other countries to conduct training in hazmat, EMS, confined space and high angle.
"Each country has some type of training field," Alvarado said. "If it meets the NFPA standards we go there and do the training. UNCA instructors are certified in the specialties they teach." Alvarado's staff includes six instructors working in Mexico and 10 traveling internationally.
Throughout Latin and South America, rescues requiring specialized training are traditionally left to the Red Cross and other aid organizations. Alvarado served in the top ranks of the Red Cross rescue group, regularly visiting Brayton for training during the last 15 years. Based on that training, Alvarado was able to form his own company.
To date, cooperative learning centers bearing TEEX's name have been locally owned operations. However, TEEX is collaborating with state-owned Qatar Petroleum to build a premier emergency services training facility in Ras Laffan, Qatar, to serve responders from throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The Ras Laffan Emergency and Safety Training College is situated on 200 acres and when completed in 2010, will include training props for industrial, HazMat, municipal, rescue and emergency medical services, said Robert Moore, Associate Director of TEEX's Emergency Services Training Institute (ESTI).
"It's a large-scale, Brayton-type training facility, and we were involved in the design of the facility and the props," said Moore. "We recently signed a multi-million-dollar agreement for TEEX to staff and operate the training facility for Qatar Petroleum for the first five years. Then the staffing will migrate over to Qatar Petroleum, and eventually the training facility will become a TEEX Cooperative Learning Center."
Moore expects to hire a general manager for the Ras Laffan Emergency and Safety Training College by the end of this year, and in early 2010, he will begin hiring coordinators, instructors and support staff. He projects that full staffing will require approximately 30 employees on site in Qatar.
"This is a very big operation and the culmination of about five years of assessments, collaboration and negotiation," Moore said. "We'll begin staffing slowly as we see the demand for training grow in the region. The vision is for this to be the primary training facility for responders in the Middle East and North Africa."
In addition, the Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University and TEEX-ESTI are working with Qatar Petroleum and the Qatar Foundation, Texas A&M University at Qatar, and other industries in the design and operation of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) safety research program at the Ras Laffan campus patterned after a similar program at Brayton.