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Airline safety: Jacksonville firefighters train for aviation-related emergencies

Fire Academy of the South instructors teach rescuers how to save lives

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it has ordered inspections on engine fan blades like the one that snapped off a Southwest Airlines plane, leading to the death of a woman who was partially blown out a window.

A photo taken Tuesday inside the cabin of the plane heading from New York to Dallas shows passengers with oxygen masks on, but experts pointed out some of them weren't wearing them correctly.

RELATED: Many passengers wore oxygen masks wrong on Southwest flightHidden crack in Southwest jet engine at center of NTSB investigation

On Wednesday, a Delta jet that departed from Atlanta's airport for London reported smoke coming from an engine and safely returned to the airport where firefighters immediately doused the engine. 

Before that, CBS program "60 Minutes" reported Sunday that Allegiant Air experienced more than 100 serious mechanical incidents on flights between January 2016 and October 2017.

The air travel incident have caused concern for some flyers, so News4Jax on Thursday went to Florida State College at Jacksonville's Fire Academy of the South, where firefighters were training for flight emergencies.

The fire academy on Jacksonville's Southside, which has two plane simulators, trains first responders from all over the world how to deal with emergencies when every second counts.

During a simulation of a plane fire, veteran instructors at the First Academy of the South demonstrated how they train rescuers to save lives.

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"The objective here is to clear a path so that people can get in or get out," said Capt. Ronnie Morrell, an instructor at Fire Academy of the South. "Emergency responders get in and people get out."

IMAGES: Training at Fire Academy of the South

While airplane fires are relatively rare, first responders practice all the time with specialized equipment and trucks, because it's a matter of life or death.

"Hazardous fumes and vapors, low oxygen, smoke, soot," Morrell said. "So it is important for us to make our attack quick, fast and have an impact on it."

David Franklin, an airport rescue firefighter who teaches at the Fire Academy of The South, said he has never seen anything like what happened on the Southwest flight this week.

"I have not seen or heard of a turban that has broken apart during flight, causing damage to the fuselage, where it has actually pulled a passenger," Franklin said.

While it appears to be a freak accident, Franklin pointed out how important it is for passengers to be prepared, listen to the flight crew, know the emergency exits and wear oxygen masks correctly if needed.

Franklin explained the proper way to wear an oxygen mask.

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"In the event that the aircraft depressurized in-flight, as what happen with the Southwest aircraft, this would drop down from the overhead compartment and then, at that point in time, this will be placed over your mouth and nose and then secured properly behind your head and your ears," he said.

Franklin stressed that the mask needs to cover both a passenger's mouth and nose.

"Yes, because with no breathing, we have a tendency where, if your mouth is closed, we would normally breathe through our nose," he said. "So if it is covering both, we'll be making sure that we get all of the adequate oxygen."

Fire Academy of The South instructors said flight incidents don't happen often, and they can usually be prevented by proposer maintenance. In the Southwest Airlines incident, the instructors said, the pilot did an amazing job staying calm and landing the plane so first responders could come and get everyone off. 

The fire academy has specialized equipment. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department also has a full station that's staffed 24/7 at the Jacksonville International Airport. Fire Rescue is also nearby other airport, and the military bases have their own special fire departments with first responders who are highly trained and always ready to go. 


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