Casper Int’l Upgrades ARFF Training Center at Opportune Time

Casper Int’l Upgrades ARFF Training Center at Opportune Time
Paul Nolan
Published in: 

Practice makes perfect, and everyone wants aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) teams to be as close to perfect as possible when they respond to airfield emergencies. 

Recent enhancements to the ARFF training facility at Casper/Natrona County International Airport (CPR) in Wyoming will help emergency personnel from across the region and elsewhere practice their skills and earn/maintain FAA-required certifications. This spring, CPR expanded its existing training center and finished construction of a larger, higher-tech area for live burn exercises. And in June, it took delivery of a new firefighting truck that will be used solely for training.

In total, CPR invested $7.4 million to enhance its ARFF training center—about $6.35 million in facilities and $1.07 million for equipment. Nearly 94% of the costs were covered by a supplemental FAA Airport Improvement Program grant. The remaining portion was covered by a grant from the state of Wyoming and the airport itself.


Project: Aircraft Rescue & Firefighting Training Facility Enhancements

Location: Casper/Natrona County (WY) Int’l Airport

Total Cost: $7.4 million

Building Expansion/Burn Pit Upgrades: $6.35 million

New ARFF Vehicle: $1.07 million (truck & equipment)

Funding: $6.95 million from FAA Supplemental Airport Improvement Program grant; $463,400 from state grant & airport funds

New Facilities: 24,500 sq. ft. fire staging area; upgraded hardware & software for training facility control; large dedicated classroom; reception area; restrooms

Full-Size Training Prop: Based on CRJ 900 & ERJ 175 fuselages to meet Index C requirements (fuselage is 75 ft. long, 10 ft. in diameter; wingspan is 30 ft.)

New Training Vehicle: 
Oshkosh Striker 6x6

Facility Construction: 
May 2020-May 2021

General Contractor: 
GH Phipps Wyoming LLC

Architectural Design/Project Manager: Jviation, a Woolpert Co.

Fire Training Consultant: Kirila Fire

Training Offered: 40-hour Basic ARFF Course (time is split equally between classroom & live burn training); live truck & hand line burns (for annual recertification); 2-day intensive truck & hand line course

Filling a Need

“Both the facility and vehicle were reaching the end of their useful life,” notes Airport Director Glenn Januska. “So without these funds to purchase a new vehicle and reconstruct the training facility, we would have been looking at winding down the operations here.”

That would have made it significantly more difficult for ARFF crews throughout Wyoming and neighboring states to fulfill their annual recertification requirements—especially since a similar facility at Salt Lake City International Airport closed in 2018, and Denver International Airport now only trains crews from Colorado.

Throughout the years, more than 2,700 firefighters from about 75 departments have trained at CPR (totals include repeat participants). So far, most have been from airports in Wyoming, northern Colorado and western Nebraska; but the mix may soon change because Januska has been receiving more inquiries from airports farther away. He attributes the recent spike in interest to a new 140-by-175-foot burn area and larger mockup plane—features that allowed CPR to step up from an Index A training facility to an Index C facility (with aircraft at least 126 feet but less than 159 feet long).

Upping the Realism

The new 24,500-square-foot fire staging area replaces an 18,750-square-foot training pit that was constructed in 1995 and had become too costly to maintain and upgrade. 

While most other training centers use propane to simulate fires, CPR’s new system uses diesel fuel to create more true-to-life fires. So did its previous system. “When we light up the pit and start a fire, it doesn’t go out until someone puts it out or it burns out,” Januska explains. “We’ve had departments drive farther to get that more realistic training.”

Using diesel fuel required the airport to take extra environmental precautions. The new burn area has two layers of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) liner to prevent diesel fuel from seeping into the ground and potentially contaminating groundwater. In addition, layers of sand were laid under the piping that carries the diesel, and a layer of rock was installed on top of that.

Instructors start and control the training fires from a tower adjacent to the staging area. The same tower was used for CPR’s previous fire staging pit, but new technology was added to provide significantly more control over the practice fires.

“We can program different types of scenarios and run them all, or run different ones based upon which way the wind is blowing and how the fuel is dispersing,” Januska explains. “With the new system, we can program a 75-gallon spill in one area, ignite it, and then five minutes later start two other spill fires. As the ARFF personnel respond to the other two, we can reignite the one the firefighters just left.”

Trainers can also simulate engine fires, which they couldn’t do before. And firefighters can now practice entering aircraft fuselages with hand lines. The old fuselage was too tight and could not be set afire remotely.

CPR’s new Oshkosh Striker 6x6 adds an additional element for trainees. When fully loaded, it provides firefighters with 3,000 gallons of water to practice their application skills. Departments wanting to practice multiple-vehicle attacks can also use the 1995 E-One 1,500-gallon truck purchased when the original training facility was built.

Project Logistics

Adding a training room and a reception area to the building was standard work for project contractor GH Phipps Wyoming LLC. However, tearing down the existing fire staging pit and building a new, larger one in its place was new territory. “That was out of the norm of what we typically do, but it’s out of the norm of what almost anybody typically does,” says GH Phipps General Manager Cris Goldy. “There are not a lot of these around the country.”

As such, the contractor hired Kirila Fire, an Ohio-based specialist in designing and manufacturing fire training facilities, to build the fire ignition system and oversee construction of the fire staging area. Kirila also sourced and installed the software and hardware that is used to ignite the training fires.

Point of Pride

CPR has offered ARFF training for more than 25 years. Training occurs from May to September, and then the facility is winterized until the next training season. Airport employees teach the classes, run the training exercises and clean/maintain the facilities; but airport officials don’t really consider the ARFF training center a profit center.

“If you look at the cost to operate the facility and the revenue we generate, it’s close to break-even,” Januska remarks. “Why do it? It’s a point of pride for the airport and for our public safety department. We take a lot of pride in being able to provide training for other departments. Plus, having the facility at the airport, we probably have the best trained ARFF personal anywhere.”

As part of an agreement with the state, CPR offers other Wyoming airports a discount on training. In addition to training airport ARFF teams, CPR has also rented the facility to emergency response crews from National Guard units in and around Wyoming.

Emergency Operations

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