Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
Oil, wind and fire
Published:  10 July, 2013

A new $1.5m offshore emergency response training facility in Newcastle International Airport (UK) is now busy with its first intake of students – Hemming Fire finds out why Offshore Training Newcastle is already promising to be a success both nationally and internationally.

Facilities in the new 20,000 square-foot centre encompass a three-storey mock offshore platform rig with full-size heli-deck, helicopter simulator and internal structures similar to the real deal. Around 12 different simulated scenarios can be run including flange fires fed by kerosene. A full size survival centre offering helicopter safety and underwater escape training is also due to come on line in the next two months, in a location just a few miles away.

It is envisaged around 6,000 offshore workers will be trained every year in emergency fire fighting at the new facility, which is the result of a partnership of three North East England training organisations: AIS, Newcastle International Airport, and Maersk Training.

All three organisations bring a different set of skills into the mix, explains Paul Stonebanks, MD of AIS. Maersk Training focuses on offshore wind and maritime industries; Newcastle Airport has over 20 years’ experience in emergency response and aviation training; and AIS is an expert in offshore oil and gas training.

‘We were approached by Newcastle Airport because they wanted us to come in with our expertise in the offshore industry and help develop offshore fire fighting courses to the OPITO standard.  We have an existing arrangement with Maersk Training - they concentrate on training for the wind industry - and we suggested it would make sense to bring them in too, as the Maersk group have over 100,000 staff globally with training needs too.’

The business case for the new centre is based firmly on logistics. While oil and gas capital Aberdeen in Scotland has four offshore fire fighting training facilities there are very few training centres south of the Scottish border offering similar competencies. ‘The North East is a very industrial area with the right skills base for working off shore – the majority of work may have moved to Aberdeen but our research shows that there are nearly 35,000 people in this catchment area employed in that sector or looking to train for it.’ In addition, with direct air links to the Middle East served by Newcastle International Airport there is potential for overseas customers too, believes Paul Stonebanks, adding that his company is already in advanced talks with a major service provider for that area.

The courses attracting the most attention are the five-day Offshore Emergency Response Team Member, followed by the four-day Offshore Emergency Response Team Leader. ‘Roughly speaking a platform with 100 people would typically have around 25% trained in fire fighting to some degree. Apart from the constant drills taking place on board they are required to come back for a refresher course every three years to ensure their competency is maintained.’

In addition to the emergency response courses, OTN’s offerings will include OPITO BOSIET, Confined  Space & Rescue, Offshore Emergency Helideck Team Member, OPITO MIST, Wind Turbine Technical Training, and IRATA Rope Access Training.

In order to understand the physical and mental demands of the courses on offer many of the managers and directors of AIS undertook the Offshore Emergency Response Team Member course – including Paul Stonebanks himself. ‘It was exhausting! You can talk about it but until you’ve actually done it you can’t understand how intense it is. At times you are attacking the heart of the fire relying on the shield created by your colleagues – it is a real test of your strength and you have to work as a team. The feedback so far has been excellent and I feel that anybody doing this course will feel a lot more confident afterwards. I think it can really change a person.’