Fort Worth, TX - based FD International takes a three-prong approach to the swelling membership ranks of the fire service – providing training, the tools for training and, finally, jobs for the best of the trained.
“We do training worldwide,” said Jeff Clifton, owner of FD International. “We manufacture specialty fire equipment and we provide staffing, maintain our own private fire departments that are trained in municipal and industrial emergency response.”
The company is widely known for its fire engineer training simulator designed and built to train apparatus operators on how to correctly pump fire trucks, recognizing problems as they occur and taking corrective action.
Today, FD International’s client list includes BP, Seacor, Botus Petroleum Pipeline Ltd., AE Comm, Pierce Manufacturing, the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant and fire departments in Austin, Atlanta and Baton Rouge, among others. FD International has five full-time office staff and over 40 part-time contract personnel.
“To be a fire instructor for us you, first, have to be a firefighter and, second, you have to have the right personality to go with the way we teach,” Clifton said.
The offered curriculum includes basic fire fighting, rescue, high angle and hazardous materials. There are also specialty courses in pump operations and driving.
“A lot of our clients want the certification in things like NFPA 1081and 704 programs,” Clifton said. “That way our international clients can show their investors and insurance agents that they have certified firefighters.”
However, the emphasis is always on teaching firefighters what they need to know in the real world, not just what is necessary to pass a test, he said.
Key to the FD International training program is selecting the right people for instructors, Clifton said.
“This is from years of trail and error,” he said. “There are some people who are very, very smart but can not convey the message. They cannot teach. What we want is for our students to feel comfortable in the classroom.”
During training, FD International creates a high stress environment, Clifton said. At the same time, it is important that the students enjoy their training.
“If they are having fun with it and are being challenged, they will retain what they have learned,” Clifton said. “It shouldn’t be a matter of sitting in a classroom and listening to someone drone on for hours.”
Most training is conducted on site at the student’s plant, refinery or station. Although FD International does not do live-fire training stateside, it has agreements with state fire services overseas to rent their live-fire training facility.
“The main one we use is in Baku, Azerbaijan,” Clifton said. “We are in talks with one in the Republic of Georgia.”
FD International’s biggest overseas customer is the BP Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, a 1,099 mile long crude oil pipeline that runs from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea by way of Baku.
“We teach the guys everything from Firefighter 101 to ICS and everything in between,” Clifton said.
He is scheduled to visit Iraq later this year to teach fire truck and fire pump operations.
To assist in firefighter training, FD International offers a line of specially designed equipment. Chief among these devices is the fire engineer training simulator.
Pump engineers tend to get less hands-on training for their specialty because actually using the equipment is labor and time consuming, Clifton said. It also wastes a lot of water, as much as 8,000 gallons for every 10 minutes of training.
“The simulator is a machine we can attach to any fire truck with a pump,” Clifton said. “We will flow anything from 800 to 1,000 gpm, recapturing all the water that we use.”
Mounted on a trailer, the simulator attaches directly to the apparatus pump using hard suction. Four sections of 50-foot hose connect the pump’s discharge valves to the simulator’s control valves, completing a closed loop system.
“The simulator is computer controlled,” Clifton said. “We tell the computer that instead of the 50-foot sections there are varying lengths on each discharge. For example, we tell the computer that the first discharge is 150 feet, discharge two has 250 feet and discharge three has 200 feet.”
Using the actual pump panel, the student must maintain the pump at the correct pressure.
“We are monitoring everything – discharge pressure, nozzle pressure, flows from each line, levels and temperatures,” Clifton said.
During a normal eight-hour training day, the pump will flow approximately 200,000 gallons of water with less than 2,000 gallons consumed. The student gets the benefit of operating the actual equipment rather than some virtual computer simulation, Clifton said.
“You get zero feedback from the computer simulations,” he said. “It’s like learning to drive a car. You’re not going to do it using a computer simulation. You’ve got to be behind the wheel to see how it acts.”
Likewise, a pump operator must learn first hand how to deal with high stress situations such as a kinked hose or a catastrophic rupture.
“We can do all that,” Clifton said.
Another training innovation offered by FD International involves adapting a fully operational engine as a tool in teaching driving skills.
“A series of hydraulics are controlled by a computer system and several onboard safety systems,” Clifton said. “The entire fire truck is monitored just like the black box on an airliner, measuring speed, brake pedal position, accelerator pedal position and lateral and axial G-forces. We have accelerometers mounted all over the fire truck”
The instructor can program the type of road conditions he wants – icy, rainy, snowy or dry. The student then drives a standard cone course.
“It might be a nice sunny day, but if the instructor selects ice, Sir Isaac Newton is going to take over, causing the driver to lose control,” Clifton said. “We want that driver to know what it feels like when the backend of a fire truck goes out from under him and how to regain control. More importantly, we want the driver to learn to avoid these situations to begin with.”
A series of castors actually raise the rear of the truck, reducing the tires contact with the road. However, safety systems onboard prevent them from being deployed unless the truck is traveling at a safe speed.
“The main safety system is what I call the deployable training wheels or outriggers,” Clifton said. “The only time we deploy the outriggers is when the accelerometers detect too much G-force in a sideways move or if sensors detect the truck no longer level.”
Video cameras onboard record the skidding and the student’s reaction. All the data is placed on a CD that the student receives at the end of the course.
“We have a contract with Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth to use one of their course for our driving,” Clifton said. “We have established a curriculum for the fire truck driving that really addresses the problems that drivers face.”
The remaining specialty equipment sold by FD International is for use in actual fire fighting rather than training. At the top of the list is the Major Incident Response Trailer (MIRT), a 1,500 gpm diesel powered pump that can be off loaded at a water source by one person.
“Unfortunately, staffing is in short supply overseas like here in the states,” Clifton said. “Our customers wanted to be able to move a large volume of water from a static source up to a kilometer away to where it is needed.”
Aside from the pump, each trailer carries a kilometer of seven-inch large diameter hose. Three of the units will be completed and deployed overseas shortly, Clifton said.
“We can use all three of them in a relay configuration or we can go as far as we need to supply water to the fire trucks,” he said.
Each MIRT also includes six tons of AFFF-AR (aqueous film-forming foam - alcohol resistant) fire fighting foam. Once the fire is extinguished, a hydraulically controlled hose retrieval system (HRS) can be employed to pick up the long stretches of hose line.
“With only one or two firefighters per unit, you can image what an undertaking it would be to pickup a kilometer of hose by hand,” Clifton said.
Also being deployed overseas is the Fire Gator, a six-wheel all terrain vehicle complete with an aluminum gooseneck trailer. The unit comes complete with a 1,500 gpm removable monitor, more than 120 gallons of foam, rescue equipment, 6,000 watts of electrical generating capacity and atmospheric monitoring equipment.
“For maneuverability, we opted to go with the John Deere 6x6 ATV,” Clifton said. “There was no way to cram everything our client wanted on an ATV alone, so we had to add the trailer. They wanted 100 gallons of water, 100 gallons of foam, a full compliment of tools and so on.”
The trailer allowed the client’s full wish list without hindering the maneuvering characteristics of the ATV.
FD International also utilizes portable-on-demand (POD) units to deploy equipment in emergencies. The Oil Spill Response (OSR) pod is designed for emergency pipeline operations, complete with recovery equipment, space for over pack drums and storage for several hundred gallons of contaminated liquid.
“What they have overseas is a fleet of trucks that pick up whatever pod they need for the emergency and deploy them in a matter of minutes,” Clifton said.
FD International’s field hospital pod is designed for a mass casualty incident. It comes with a fully stocked treatment room with a stainless steel treatment table, floor drainage, sinks, fresh onboard water and two hygiene stations.
“One part of the pod is for triage and has a deployable tent that can be used for triage before moving the patient into the treatment room,” Clifton said.
Beginning this year, FD International offers firefighter placement for job openings overseas, Clifton said.
“We have the people for all levels from brand new firefighter to the chief,” Clifton said. “Just recently we selected a guy from Michigan to be a fire chief in the Republic of Georgia.”
Eventually, Clifton wants to offer job placement in the United States as well as overseas.
“We just started this year, but so far it has worked out very well,” he said.