« | 29th June 2020

Dive into the exciting world of Aviation Fire Fighting as we interview Kristin Alston

Kristin never imagined herself running into fight fires and how she came to be based at one of the largest and busiest airports in Australia.

What is your Job what do you currently do?

Aviation rescue fire fighter at Sydney airport, our primary role is the safety of aircraft but we also respond to Hazardous Materials (HAMATS), Fuel Spills, Water Rescue because we are at Sydney surrounded by water and finally the big response we go to is First Aid. We have around 3000 responses a year of which 2000 are First Aid responses. People don’t realise how busy we are with First Aid, this varies from basic first aid to the more serious CPR, strokes, to delivering babies, to drugs over doses from people taking too many sleeping pills for the flight. We cover the whole airport, including inside the terminal and to within 1km radius around the airport, this can include car accidents, baggage handling incidents, kitchen staff accidents from any of the food outlets.

 

We are Medical First Aid Responders not paramedics, trained in advanced first aid and CPR, so we respond quickly and wait for the Ambulance, there is no Ambulance based at the Airport.

When it comes to the water rescue service we have two boats, this allows us to be first response to an incident off the end of the runway in Sydney, to deploy rafts for passengers. We don’t have fire fighting equipment on the boats and we can’t go into the water, it’s more to deploy emergency equipment. This does require a marine licence which Air Services provide the training for.

What does a normal day look like for you?

We usually come in before sign on around 7 am and do the gear swap, where we each do a complete gear swap with one of the crew who are currently on duty. Roll call is at 7.55am every morning and there we find our your “riding” positions (where we ride on the truck and our duties), then you do your daily checks of the trucks, equipment, tools and Protective Breathing Equipment (PBE). Depending on the day and what we have rostered will depend on what we do next. We rotate jobs so we get to cover everything in rotation. It could be a training drill day; sometimes it’s first aid or structural or aviation training drills. Or you could be doing a full check of the boats, cleaning off barnacles and checking equipment. Or if you are on the first response truck then you will be responding to any call outs as first response, like fire alarms or first aid. You might be rostered in the radio control room, which is like 000 of the airport. So it really depends on what duty you have been rostered on as to what you do for the day. We also have a full station so in your downtime you can just hang out, go to the gym, or cook in the kitchen.

For Sydney Airport there are 4 separate crews, 17 fire fighters per crew. We are always assigned to that crew, however we can do shift swaps. We work 24hrs at a time, usually 24hrs on, 24hrs off, then another 24hrs on followed by 5 days off. I think it’s one of the best jobs in the world only working 2 days out of 8 every year and earning nearly $100k a year and you get to stay fit and it’s exciting.

Can you give us a crazy story from work?

I wasn’t on this shift but it was when a Chinese passenger who didn’t know she was pregnant was about to board her flight home, went to the toilet and gave birth. The crew had to perform CPR on the baby until the ambulance arrived, they worked on the baby and fortunately it survived. She named him “Lucky” and they come and visit us each year when they return for a holiday.

What is your favourite part of the job?

Driving the trucks. I love driving the trucks.

How did you get to where you are today, what does your career path look like after leaving school?

At school I didn’t now what I wanted to do or be, I knew I didn’t want to go to University straight away. I was lucky I didn’t have the pressure from my parents to go to Uni. I loved being outdoors and I found an application to work in America as a Summer Camp Councillor, which I loved and I realised I wanted to travel. I then ended up doing summer camps in Canada and Austria, then outdoor education camps in France and Switzerland. I then decided to do a ski season, completing my ski instructing certificate which then saw me do a season in New Zealand before returning to Australia.

I then moved into Ski Patrol, I’ve always been interested in the rescue field. I was looking at what to do next, I was interested in working for the Ambulance however I was encouraged to apply for this role by my manager, running into a fire was a bit overwhelming and it’s a job I had never thought of, but I thought Why not?

What qualifications do you need to join?

  • First Aid Certificate.
  • Your truck licence
  • Year 12 or equivalent.

What character qualities do you think suit this position?

It’s a very practical job, so you have to enjoy getting your hands dirty, have spacial awareness, be a good problem solver, obviously need to be fit and especially be a good team player. Also you need to enjoy a bit of adventure, a challenge and being pushed outside of your comfort zone. There is no defined perfect qualities but these will help.

What is involved with the training?

You are taught everything you need, they really look after you and you are very well trained for all situations that could arise. They increase the training so it’s all step by step, it might seem daunting at first but they gradually take you through everything you need to know. It’s very safe, we have all the equipment and we are trained well, so it’s not overwhelmed at all.

At the end of your Recruit Course you receive your Certificate II. Then you have 2 years to complete your certificate III, this can take up to 18 months depending on the size of the airport. The larger the airport the longer it takes to know everything about that airport.

You get Rated in every position. One of the ratings that takes a while to achieve at Sydney is Topography, it takes about 6 months because there is a lot to learn being such a big airport, you need to know every runway, taxiway, Navigation aid, building number and fire panel in each building.

If you could go back and give your younger self some advise what would it be?

I’m not sure as I have really enjoyed my journey. I was lucky and I particularly remember a letter from my sister and in it she said “Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can fly’ I remember that letter having quite an impact on me. It encouraged me to continue my adventures, rather than head home and follow the ‘conventional path’

What advise would you give younger girls wanting to start a career in Aviation?

I’m capable. If you want to do it, just go and do it. You get taught everything anyway.

I have been told about a study that was completed showed when males apply for a job they might have only 25% of the skills but they still think they should get the job, compared to a female that might have 75% of the skills but she won’t apply because she feels she is missing the 25% skills required. So I would just say go and do it and don’t listen to those that say you can’t.

Whatever you chose to do, just do it, life is too precious. If you have a passion in it you will enjoy it and success.

Supported by the Australian Government under the Women in the Aviation Industry Initiative