NATO firefighters train at international base on Darlington's doorstep

SCORCHED carcasses of passenger planes, military jets and chemical tankers scattered metres away from an airport runway makes for a classic film script.

However, the alarming scene straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster is the reality faced by thousands of international firefighters who travel to the North-East for their aviation fire training.

The deafening rush of sound, stifling wall of heat and overpowering smell of kerosene-based aviation fuel is part and parcel of their job to battle blazes ripping through aircrafts.

A 20ft-high blaze consuming an Airbus A380 engine and black smoke billowing from a smouldering shell of a Boeing 747 is the norm at the Serco International Fire Training Centre (IFTC), at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

For two decades, firefighters tackling aviation, industrial, offshore and marine fires have visited the North-East site from as far afield as Namibia, Oman and Afghanistan.

Simulations and hypothetical scenarios played out across the 19-acre training facility, near Darlington, are designed to prepare fire crews for real life or death disasters at airports, chemical plants and oil rigs.

As part of a week-long programme, NATO firefighters are currently training at the IFTC, which offers practical firefighting exercises, virtual reality simulations and classroom-based theory lessons.

IFTC’s director of training, Dennis Perkins, oversees 10,000 delegates from 80 different countries who complete a range of courses at the site.

Mr Perkins said: “IFTC is the leading aviation and fire training centre in the world and it’s been based at Durham Tees Valley since 1981.

“Serco took over in 1996 and with NATO being here this week, it feels fitting that we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this month.

“We call it our little gem in the North-East. If you speak to people in the immediate area, they know about what we do here, but there are people across the world who know too.

“It puts the North-East on the map and most recently we’ve welcomed colleagues from across the UK, Germany, Bucharest Airport and Poland.”

Despite a population of 110,000 people living four miles away from Durham Tees Valley, the skeleton of a forest green-coloured A380 simulation rig is the only obvious sign of the international work happening on Darlington’s doorstep.

Even on site, the “fireground” area – just visible from the A67 – has an eerily calm atmosphere.

Firefighters thrown in to exercises, with no prior warning of what they are about to face, carry out their jobs with confidence as many have experienced all manner of emergency situations in the virtual Advanced Disaster Management Simulator.

The £200,000 virtual reality simulator bridges the gap between firefighting theory and the real thing by allowing dynamic rehearsal runs of major incidents.

Josef Moll, a firefighter based near Cologne, in Germany, has been battling blazes for 35 years and has seen IFTC’s development since his first trip to the site in 1998.

Mr Moll said: “We’ve found that other fire training sites aren’t in a position to train aviation fire fighters as either it’s very expensive or it’s not realistic.

“We have to deal in real life with fuel fires and we can train fully here as we have those fuel fire equipment. That’s the reason why we came to Teesside because it’s the only place where we have that opportunity.”