Final RAF Firefighter Trainees At Manston Close To Completing Training

The Royal Air Force is leaving the base after six decades as the service's firefighting training moves to Gloucestershire.

The last ever Royal Air Force firefighters to be trained at Manston in Kent are close to completing their course.

The RAF has been using the site for decades, including during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War and even earlier.

The firefighting training, which has been run at Manston for more than 30 years, is moving to the new £5m Fire Service College in the Cotswolds which is operated by private company Capita.

The school's departure will bring the RAF's long association with the base to an end. 

Wing Commander Andy Callander, Commandant of the Defence Fire Training and Development Centre, told Forces News: "Most people think of Manston as one of the centrepieces of the Battle of Britain.

"The station was almost uniquely destroyed in 1940 [due to] the number of attacks that took place on it.

"Throughout the rest of the war, many famous feats of aviation took place from here, not least the Channel Dash, when some six Swordfish bombers attacked the German fleet in the Channel and were all shot down and the Commander was awarded a Victoria Cross," he added.

"And [there were] many other feats of aviation during that time: D-Day, Dunkirk, Dieppe, the fight against the V1 Rockets.

"Indeed, the very first operational jet fighter unit in the Royal Air Force operated from here for the first time; number 616 squadron with Gloster Meteors."

During week 12 of training, the trainees are learning how to deal with simulated aircraft and vehicle fires.

Manston's final firefighter trainees have just two weeks left of their 14-week course and are currently in the 'crash phase' - learning how to deal with simulated aircraft and vehicle fires.

Their training has been very different to many others before them with the coronavirus pandemic causing much disruption.

When the pandemic first hit, the training was suspended and the 16 students were sent home.

Having returned, they are confined to camp within their own family bubble.

"The dynamic situation of firefighting [means] you cannot socially distance safely so we took that approach, the safest approach that we could, because it's vitally important for the guys and girls out on the frontline,” said Chief Firefighting Instructor, Warrant Officer Jamie Henderson.

The first section of training is very similar to civilian firefighters but the last phase is more specific, with students learning about aircraft fires and how to rescue trapped aircrew. 

Trainee RAF firefighter, Aircraftman William Woods, told Forces News: "My father was a firefighter so from a young age I’ve always had that insight into the job role and ever since growing up and seeing him do his bits and all that, I kind of really wanted to do it."

The recruits practise rescuing trapped aircrew.

The only female in the group is 20-year-old Jordan Lenton, from Dudley in the West Midlands, who doesn't come from a firefighting background.

“It’s nice just to push out a bit and do something different to what my family does," she said.

“They [my parents] are happy that I’ve done something different – it’s something good for my life.”

After they finish the course at Manston, the trainees will be posted to stations up and down the country to finish their training.

They will pass out next month before a final goodbye in late March 2021.

Over the years, Manston’s firefighting school has gathered a substantial collection of vintage aircraft and vehicles that will all go to new homes.

Although the RAF's depature marks an end of an era, the site won't be closing completely. 

Reservists from 3rd Battalion the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment are staying, along with an Air Cadet Squadron.