Massive flames can often be seen coming from three buildings at the end of a disused military runway in Northamptonshire.
The sight often baffles witnesses – but the facility is actually used as a fire brigade training ground, where officers deliberately set fires and put them out again.
RAF Chelveston is where full-time and on-call firefighters head to undergo training and assessments that will get them ready for the next time they are called into action for real, reported NorthantsLive.
The blackened training rigs at the former RAF site have been set on fire time and again since the early 2010s as firefighters both learn and revisit their skills in them.
“We started with two containers at the bottom of the site and a Portaloo,” says Jason Lister, the Training Delivery Manager for the service who oversees the team of instructors.
“We’re proud of how the site has developed since then. A lot of people don’t necessarily see the work that we do here, but it’s predominantly to maintain firefighters’ competence.”
Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue)
The training at Chelveston is tactical and will see whole time and on-call firefighters visit twice a year to take part in training programmes run by a team of eight instructors and supported by two training support technicians.
The practical courses include search and rescue, where fire fighters are forced to navigate in dark conditions, extinguish fires, identify casualties and exit safely.
And there’s compartment fire behaviour training – the highest risk exercise that exposes them to very high temperatures so they can learn gas cooling techniques.
Other skills taught are in tactical ventilation and using fans to remove hot fire gases.
New recruits undergo an intense three-week Breathing Apparatus (BA) course, which is run four times a year.
This course is one of the toughest, both physically and mentally, and takes them all the way through to being confident to wear the BA gear, understand the risks with flashover and backdraughts, and how to cope in tough conditions.
The rigs at Chelveston act as an introduction before they head off to join their new stations and revisit every year to maintain their skills.
Before being used by Northants Fire, Chelveston was a Royal Air Force and United States Air Force base used in-case of emergency during WWII and the Cold War.
“People come from across the country to join Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service,” said Watch Manager Instructor Chris Westfield.
Chris himself transferred from London Fire Brigade in 2019, where he dealt with large-scale incidents including Grenfell Tower.
He added: “We recently had some whole time transferees and they did things such as RTC familiarisation and flashover training. Different services use different breathing apparatus, so they have gone through training with our BAs now and they have also done ultra-high-pressure training.
“We make sure that we treat on-call the same as whole time when they visit us – they are firefighters and they should have the same training and safety.
“Ultimately for whoever comes in we try to create, as best as we can, work related scenarios. The facilities we have here at Chelveston are far greater and advanced than a lot of other services, even down to the training rigs here.
“You speak to a lot of people nationally and they either have rigs that are very limited, or no training at all and they go to other services to train. But here we have these fantastic multi-floor units whereby we can create several different scenarios to help people be as safe as they possibly can.”