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Aircraft fire training at NASA Ames (audio slideshow)

NASA Ames Research Center hosts an emergency preparedness event certifying departments in FAA firefighting procedures.

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif.--Airport firefighter training has gone mobile, and this week it traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area--raging fire, billowing smoke, and all.

At the NASA Ames Research Center, near Mountain View, Calif., this week, Silicon Valley fire departments are cooperating on emergency training missions in order to get or renew their Federal Aviation Administration certification for airport first responders. Every airport fire department is required to receive this FAA-approved aviation firefighting certification annually. And while fire crews can travel to fixed training facilities, that can be costly. So this mobile unit, one of three like it in the U.S., brings the firefighting exercises to them. (It costs about $100,000 to send a crew of 40 firefighters to a fixed site, whereas use of the mobile unit costs around $20,000.)

The mobile trainer, a Beachcraft 1900 19-passenger aircraft, was designed to look like an actual aircraft fuselage and includes realistic mock-ups of engines, landing gear, cockpit controls, flight data recorders, working fire T-handles, and seating as well as realistic entry and exit systems. Different configurations and scenarios are used to prepare emergency responders to fight the types of fires they might encounter in aviation crashes, such as burning wheel brakes, auxiliary power units, wings, engines, and airplane cabins. The propane-fueled fires bubble up in burn pans through pools of water to create erratic and unpredictable billowing flames, simulating the fuel-spill fires that can occur.

The self-contained unit works as an all-in-one facility that can be packed up and moved around the country by truck, bringing this highly specialized training to the crews that need it.

Watch as first responders practice for airport emergencies: