Fire Force: Gazprom Neft builds firefighting unit

Sixty nine raw recruits from Iraq, are now a cohesive firefighting

Firefighting, Sixty nine raw recruits, ANALYSIS, PRODUCTS & SERVICES, Industry Trends, Onshore, Exploration & Production

Sixty nine raw recruits from Badra, Iraq, are now a cohesive firefighting force through intensive training by the Stirling Group

Gazprom Neft faced a challenge on its remote concession in the province of Badra. The company needed a private fire-fighting and emergency force, but with the remote location, 170km outside Badra, a lack of local expertise, and a deficit of any previous examples of fire-fighting training in that part of Iraq, the Russian oil major had to think outside the box to find a solution.

“Since the local fire service infrastructure could not cover the needs of complicated hydrocarbon facilities, we had to look for private fire service solutions, which were simply not available in Iraq.

Although we are the oil company, and our core business is to drill, construct infrastructure facilities and produce oil, we had to think who can establish an emergency response service for us,” explains Alexander Kolomatskiy, managing director, Gazprom Neft Badra BV.

“We are taking all safety related issues at our project seriously. When we were developing the concept of our future production operations we decided to invest in both sophisticated engineering fire preventive measures and professional emergency response teams.”

Gazprom Neft wanted to outsource the fire brigade as a service, rather than running the service itself.

After a tendering process Gazprom Neft opted for Stirling Group because of its strong track record in fire and safety, and its successful work in Iraq.

The scope of work consisted of three phases: selection of local candidates, their professional training, followed by their duty as an emergency response team at Badra

“The tender was for the Stirling Group to put in place a private fire brigade to consist of one person in charge, some middle ranking managers and some junior officers, as well as a senior engineer to maintain the fire engines and equipment, and then fire fighters,” said Kevan Whitehead, director of Fire and Rescue Services at Stirling Group.

“Part of the remit that we were given was that the firefighters should be local people, to support the local economy, to support stability in the region and to create social inclusion. We were instructed to select young men from the villages and towns around the Badra concession.”

The the head of the fire service and junior officers are expatriates. Over a three year period, the firefighters that show the aptitude and attitude to become officers will be given additional training to replace the expatriate workers.

The Stirling Group began the selection process by placing a general advert in the local newspapers, on the radio and on a website. The company asked CVs from young men between 20 and 30 from the Badra region, with a basic level of education.

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“We received over 800 CVs and then sat down in our offices with one of our Iraqi members of staff and we went through every CV until we managed to produce a long list of 300 applicants,” said Whitehead.

“We then took over a small facility in Al Kut near Badra and we ran an assessment centre, which included having them doing runs to test fitness levels, we did some very basic strength tests like push-ups and sit-ups, we subjected them to some numeracy and literacy tests.

We weren’t looking for a university professor, we wanted someone who could read and write and understand basic mathematics. We found most of the guys had only ever had primary school education, some of them had English language, and some did not.”

After the assessment centre training was completed, Stirling Group did one-to-one interviews; those that passed through that stage went through a medical and criminal record check to make sure that there were no problems with employing them. That process cut the number of students down to 80.

“We now had young men who we felt had the right aptitude and capabilities, but they knew nothing about the fire service. The intention was we were to take them to the UK to the national fire service training college in the UK at Moreton-in-Marsh,” said Whitehead. “However to get 80 students to the UK we had to go through the UK border agency visa process.”

Typically the agency looks at employment history, bank account statements, and family. Most of the young men recruited had never been employed, did not have a bank account and did not meet any of the criteria, according to Stirling Group.

“After a lot of negotiation with the embassy and a lot of promises from ourselves that they would all return, we eventually got approval. It took nine weeks to get that approval, but rather than waste that time we set up a temporary training centre in Al Kut,” said Whitehead.

“We took over a hotel and flew in our own team of instructors. For four hours, six days a week the students had English language training to get them up to a certain necessary level. We also worked on their physical fitness as many were not fit enough for fire-fighting and we did some basic firefighting techniques.”

Stirling Group flew 69 young men to Gatwick in the UK, after losing 11 recruits during the nine week period of training. According to Stirling Group, some recruits decided this was not the job for them and some of them were not making the progress that was needed. During the next 12 weeks, the 69 recruits underwent the equivalent of a British firefighter training course.

As part of the training, the recruits were issued with corporate uniforms, they were made to attend parade at 8.30am daily and were inspected to see they were clean shaven, clothing was clean and shoes were polished.

“We continued with the physical training and started with the technicalities of firefighting, which were a bit more theory and practical, including chemistry, radio communications, hazardous materials, going into real fires with proper breathing apparatus. It was very challenging for them,” said Whitehead.

The course was based on a mixture of European and North American standards, NFPA (National Fire Protection Association standards) and had to be progressive, starting with the very basics; such as simple words of command and teaching them to start using the hose.

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The course progressed over a 12 week period until the recruits could use complex breathing apparatus in real fire fighting scenarios.

“If they don’t do it right, they will get burned. Part of the training is that they had to
understand the dangers and had to experience fear; but they would experience fear under controlled conditions so that if they are presented with this in the real world at least they have an understanding of what real fire is all about; to feel the heat and warmth from the flame, the noise etc,” said Whitehead.

In the middle of March 2014, after three months of training, there was a formal passing out parade at the college and the students put on a demonstration to show their skills, and their technique.

“Our people visited Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh several times within the 12 weeks of the recruits’ training and we understood that this facility is one of the best, but what we saw at the passing out was a real demonstration of how far our students had progressed from when they started and how many skills they gained,” stated Kolomatskiy.

Not everyone passed the course, there was a pass/fail rate in English language, and physical fitness. The students were expected to achieve the same physical fitness level as a professional UK firefighter, measured by their aerobic capacity. The English language training was based on an international standard and the students had to achieve a designated grade.

“For fire-fighting we also measured the skills and measured their knowledge. Not everyone did pass. We were aiming to employ 50 firefighters on the concession, 69 students went to the UK. We have got 50 students who will be going forward,” said Whitehead.

“However, we felt because of the significant investment we made in the whole 69 that we don’t really want to lose the other 19 students. What we are doing is we are looking at alternative methods how we can offer employment to these 19.

Really, we want to try and keep 69 people employed so we are looking at some of them becoming engineers or technicians. Some of them will be trained to become inspectors themselves because they have an understanding of firefighting and have Arabic and English language skills, which will be an asset.”

The company also had to modify its training methods for the Iraqi recruits.

“The way that you would train a young Iraqi man is different to training a European. With a European we would be more robust in how we communicate, be a bit more forceful in shouting at them. That simply would not work with an Iraqi student, so we didn’t deal with them that way,” said Whitehead.

The students returned to their villages in Badra on leave on completion of training, but returned to the Badra field at the end of April to begin further training and work duties at the Badra concession.

“There are six fire trucks supplied with a full set of rescue equipment waiting for the emergency response team in Badra field. We are currently finishing construction of the fire depot at our central processing facility; this building is one of the high priority units listed in ‘ready to start up plan’ for our field,” says Kolomatskiy.

“Our emergency response team is going to spend a lot of their time in this building while on duty, that is why it will be fully equipped with life support facilities, bedrooms, a canteen, offices, a gym, classes, recreation rooms etc. There will also be a fire specific training ground next to the fire depot. All this will allow our team to continue their development and stay with our project as long as possible.”

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The duties the firefighting team are expected to perform are firstly emergency response; that could be anything from a fire in a rubbish bin in an accommodation block, to a full fire on the concession.

“One of the biggest risks in the Middle East is road traffic accidents so we have trained and equipped the recruits to deal with road traffic accidents. It is likely to be something they will come across on a regular basis. They have the correct training techniques and equipment for that. We have also trained them as medics, so they don’t injure the people more than the incident itself does,” said Whitehead.

The firefighters are also in charge of preventative maintenance on the Badra site.

They must inspect the facilities to make sure the fixed installations are working properly; fire extinguishers are correctly sited and are working correctly, and that people know how to use them. Even fire doors and smoke detectors need to be tested and logged.

The firefighting team will also conduct regular fire drills, so that if an alarm does happen , everybody on site knows what to do, where to go and who to report to.

“By putting in the preventative measures in place, hopefully you stop the emergency response. They
also need to be continually trained to maintain the standards,” said Angus Neil, managing director, Stirling Group.

The typical firefighters’ routine would normally be at the start of the day to confirm that the fire engine is fit for purpose. The equipment should be checked every day.

“They should check the breathing apparatus, that there is enough water and foam on the vehicle, that all the equipment is clean with no corrosion and then we would expect them to undertake some training every day. The professionals in the UK would follow that similar regime. It needs to be instinctive so when it is 2am they don’t have to think about the activities they do; it is instinct,” said Whitehead.

The Stirling Group believes that it has now gathered significant expertise in the area of fire and safety training in the Iraq region and is gathering interest from other international oil companies both within Iraq and elsewhere within the GCC and the wider Middle East.

Stirling Group is also running a similar course in fire and rescue for other clients in Iraq and outside the country. It has another batch of students going to one of its training partners in Russia in May. It is also working on developing the programme within Iraq.

“Not everyone can travel to the UK so we are looking at developing our own training facilities in Iraq for those who can’t get visas,” said Neil.

The group is also in discussions in southern Iraq, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

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