DOZENS of flights roar from the runway at Teesside Airport each and every day, but what you might not know is that a team of crew remain on standby at their very own base.

An arsenal of 22 firefighters, employed by the airport, is based just a few minutes away from the main terminal building out of public view, but in sight of the whole airstrip.

As a result, very little is known about what goes on behind the scenes and just how much the team is required to do - 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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But as firefighters and crew celebrate International Firefighters Day today (May 4), we've looked back at our exclusive visit to the station at Teesside Airport.

We spent the day with the team to see what life is really like...

The Northern Echo:

The fire station is located by Air Traffic Control Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

The crew have view of the airstrip from the 'Watch Room' Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

David Alderson, watch manager at the fire station, explains how efforts to maintain a close eye remain “continuous” as they stand ready “should anything happen," with checks completed every day.

'There are checks every day'

He says: “We always have six crew on duty, seven when the Ryanair comes in as it is a higher category.

“We have to work off a check sheet, every morning, 365 days of the year, where we are checking the vehicles, ensuring they have water, foam, diesel – there are equipment checks every day, then it gets signed off.”

Tucked away, but ready to go within a matter of seconds, four – two of which are used as a reserve – vast ‘fire appliances’ with tyres costing £4,000 alone are housed inside the fire station.

The Northern Echo:

Two fire appliances out of four at the fire station Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

They have a target of three minutes to arrive at the scene Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

They are capable of tackling the worst of fires and shoot thousands of litres every 60 seconds.

Three minutes to get to the scene

Danny Wilson, crew manager, who has been at the airport for 16 years explains how they have a target to be anywhere on the runway within three minutes of the initial call.

Revealing that there is actually an internal objective of two minutes, Danny says anywhere up to 12,000 litres of foam and water are carried onboard each vehicle, unlike appliances used by the local authority which tend to carry around 70 per cent less as there are often water outlets nearby.

He says: “So our response time is three minutes from when the initial call comes in – that includes getting on our kit, jumping in the vehicle and getting to any point on the runway as needed.

“We go through around 2,000 litres of water per minute and the first three minutes are critical.”

The Northern Echo:

The fire crew must obey the rules of the airport when tending to a scene Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

The view from Runway 23 at Teesside Airport Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

At Teesside Airport, they are responsible for dealing with an aviation incident within 1,000 metres of each end of the runway, which extends beyond a section of the River Tees.

'Not just the airport'

Watch manager David says that the teams are required to know every single access point and runway location in order to deal with an incident.

He says: “Our vehicles can go off-road, for instance, we have to cross the River Tees, so we need to know how to get across the other side of the water safely.”

But the crew do not just have the airport to contend with, they are authorised to deal with fires outside of the airport if requested by the local authority, although this tends to be major incidents only and when aircraft is not due to arrive.

At Teesside Airport, the team are permitted to respond to an incident – if authorised by Air Traffic Control – but only within three nautical miles of the airport.

The Northern Echo:

Just some of the crew that were on duty Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo's Jim Scott attempts to be kitted up Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Although we were kitted up in about five minutes (far above the allowed time), it can take around two years before fully-fledged firefighters can safely tackle an aviation incident.

Training takes around two years

A lot of the team at Teesside Airport’s fire station have had a wealth of experience, with some previously serving for the Royal Air Force as Danny revealed.

He said: “I’d say you have to your basic fire training course, aviation firefighting, training on-site, going through the basics, to have a really good understanding of the job.

“Personally you have to have been here two years before you start to know the airport, tactics and have a good understanding.”

Training which covers everything, from how to successfully tackle a fire in the most efficient way without wasting limited water to putting tools back in the correct place, is vital and otherwise could prove deadly.

The Northern Echo:

Everything has its place which ensures tools are accounted for and not left on the runway Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

Firefighter uniform has to be stored correctly to ensure kit is applied within seconds Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Danny says: “Even down to the toolbox, there’s a place for everything like a screwdriver, if that was missing we’d have to look around to ensure that it hadn’t been left on the runway as that could have consequences.”

'People don’t think we’re busy, but we are always busy' 

Thankfully Teesside Airport tends to see minor incidents, many of which are declared as ‘non-emergencies, but with that comes a conception that airport firefighters are not busy.

Danny says this could not be further from the truth as the daily checks required to meet aviation standards take up a large portion of the time.

He adds: “People don’t think we’re busy, but we are always busy – we always have jobs to do.”

The Northern Echo:

The team carry out checks at the terminal building Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The Northern Echo:

The team carry out checks at the terminal building Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

From routine fire checks in the terminal building, medical emergencies, snow ploughing, grass cutting and remaining on standby, the team have a busy schedule.

He says: “In winter, when there’s snow, that needs to be removed as if you have just 1ml of snow, by the time an aircraft gets to the other side of the runway, the height is unsafe – it’s then our job to maintain it and prevent it from freezing back over.”

Describing another, but very important role which may not appear immediately obvious, Danny says grass cutting is an absolutely necessity in their bid to reduce risk of wildlife in the area.

Back in 2009, an American airliner made headlines across the globe after both engines failed due to a bird strike when taking off from New York’s LaGuardia.

Danny explains that birds and wildlife pose a similar risk, so grass has to be kept below a minimum level, and experts sometimes called in to relocate certain breeds of bird from the airport.

He adds: "You've got somewhere you can't even move their eggs, so we call on the Wetland Trust and they have come up in previous years to help move them safely away from the area."

Adding that none of what the crew does would work without each and every member, Danny firmly says the secret to a successful fire station is pulling together and good old-fashioned teamwork.

Earlier this year, that very team saw two new recruits as Amy Caldwell and Michael Hastings were drafted in to provide an immediate response to any on-site incidents.

At the time, Amy said: “I’m really excited to be joining the airport crew and the team has been incredibly welcoming.

"Working on just one site, albeit a big one, is a bit of a change to working in the community, but it’s a new challenge that I can’t wait to take on."


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