Into the hellhole: Training for a plane on fire - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Into the hellhole: Training for a plane on fire

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SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -

Thankfully, there has never been a major crash at Sky Harbor Airport, but there is a fire station at Sky Harbor full of highly trained men and women, ready to respond in seconds if a plane ever gets in trouble.

Once a year, those firefighters go to an airport in California where they deal with nightmare scenarios they all hope they never see for real.

For the first time ever they invited a member of the media to go with them – me, Troy Hayden.

This is a special unit of the Phoenix Fire Department. They work at Sky Harbor every day.

We saw them in action late last year when they had to put out a small fire on the back of a US Airways jet.

It's an important mission and they nailed it. But it was nothing like what we saw at a training site in southern California.

Sirens wail as the call goes out. An airliner has crashed, spilled its fuel and is on fire.

Firefighters rush to the scene, walking right into the towering flames. The firefighters who protect our airport have to travel here to San Bernardino, California for training required by the FAA.

It's an opportunity I got to experience, bringing you along with a point-of-view camera mounted on my helmet. The first exercise -- a simulated fuel spill around the elevated fuselage of a 727.

In a fire this intense, the metal body of a plane will only resist the flames for 90 seconds before it begins to burn. So time lost equals lives lost.

We approach the flames in groups. The hoses are heavy and powerful, pumping out massive amounts of water.

Even though this is a drill, this fire pit is no joke. The temperatures inside is 1100 degrees.

Because of that heat, my job is to literally cool the ground around another group of firefighters who move in and put a ladder up against the plane. They open the emergency exit and begin to evacuate stranded passengers.

Our next drill gets pretty hairy -- fighting a fire in the cramped quarters of a plane's fuselage. The second we enter the cramped space we are engulfed in thick smoke.

As we make our way back towards where passengers would be trapped, we are forced to get down on our knees crawling to duck below the heat and smoke.

The roar of the fire echoes around us, and then we get a flash over. Combustible material near the ceiling, heated to its flash point -- a stream of flames flashing over our heads. Fire so hot it can melt protective gear.

The lead firefighter acts quickly, dousing the flash with his hose, cooling it. And then we move back to the seating area. Look at the flames all around us.

Can you imagine trying to survive something like this as a passenger? Seems almost impossible.

It's an eye opening experience for me. The heat, even inside our protective turnouts, is very intense. But we are able to punch through and get back out into the sunshine, valuable lessons learned.

All these firefighters know their actions on a real crash can save or cost lives. but thankfully this training is about as close to the real thing as most will ever get.

That training we just showed you is required every year by the FAA. Every firefighter who works at the airport has to go through it. It was quite a day.


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