Airport Fire Training Center Getting a Facelift

Rehab will allow PIT to continue training firefighters from across globe

By Julie Bercik

Published February 26, 2024

Read Time: 2 mins


The FAA Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighter (ARFF) Training Facility at Pittsburgh International Airport trains the 51 firefighters of the Allegheny County Airport Authority Fire Rescue as well as firefighters from around the country and even from around the world.

Now 25 years old, the center is undergoing a two-phase $1.3 million rehabilitation to ensure it retains its global reputation as a leading provider of lifesaving training.

One of the center’s central features is its simulator, a structure shape like an aircraft fuselage that is lit on fire so firefighters can learn how to extinguish a fire and rescue passengers in a controlled environment.

“We are at about two-and-a-half times the expected lifespan of the simulator right now,” said Chief Tom Bonura. While the simulator is still safe to operate, it’s time for the rehab project, he said: “We are at that point that continuing the way we are would be more of a cost impact to us than if we didn’t.”

Bonura said the upgrades will pay for themselves in four to five years, in part by allowing PIT firefighters to complete annual training required to remain FAA-compliant without going to one of the nation’s other 17 centers. If PIT’s firefighters do not complete this training annually, they are de-certified and risk the ability to operate the airport under FAA Part 139.

“That looks to be $6,000 to $7,000 per firefighter and, in our 51-person department, it quickly adds up that you are anywhere from about $300,0000 to $370,000 total that we would have to pay,” Bonura said.

The rehab at the training center also allows PIT to continue training firefighters from across the country. Each year, PIT’s state-certified fire instructors train about 200 firefighters, aircraft rescue and structural firefighters. Firefighters train with water while battling a variety of scenarios.


What’s being done

The first phase of the rehab project is currently under way and involves replacing the tank and piping that stores and delivers propane to the simulator.

This phase should be complete before spring training at the fire center.

Phase two will start when the training center shuts down for the summer and includes replacing the curb inward around the simulator. That includes removing all the old gravel around the simulator that firefighters walk on while training, and all the piping underneath the gravel. Bonura said when that’s done, crews will fabricate a new wet deck system.

“[It] will be brand new piping and a hard metal surface that can support the weight of anyone out there training,” he said. “They fill that area with water and the water comes up about three quarters of an inch above that metal decking. So the propane gas, when it comes out of the piping, bubbles through the water and looks like a fuel spill fire.”

New thermal imaging cameras will be mounted, monitoring the temperature drop when water is activated from fire response vehicles. The cameras and computer systems shut off the valves after the fire goes out. Phase two will be complete before fall training begins in September.

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