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Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

by Marcus
Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

John Lord writes about the excellent work being done at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services to protect the on-call firefighters. Carcinogens and particulates present a risk not just to responders, managers, and support staff but to all the family members of those involved in incidents.

Biggin Hill The story so far.

It has been a pleasure for me to work with Biggin Hill for a few years now and as with many other airports the passion for learning and change there is inspiring.

I have no financial affiliation with anyone mentioned in the article, it is intended only to inform and let others make their enquiry and judgements, I do not endorse products but do mention many but unless I clearly state it’s not me saying buy these, you must do your research, explore standards and make your own choice but do it with eyes fully open.

Meet the good guys.

Mick O’Brien Head of Fire and Station Manager Chris Thornton at Biggin Hill RFFS have led the charge at the airport, changing procedures and work methods to keep the staff safer.

The whole station can take pride and credit for the enthusiasm and commitment to change, staff embracing with a true passion the efforts being made.

What is great with Mick and his team is they are taking the message and sharing it with the wider airport family at Biggin Hill, securing understanding with senior managers and other departments.

In addition, Biggin Hill have to date played host to two very good seminars with Andy Slater PGI Safety and Simon Hunter of Hunter Apparel, spending their money facilitating great days and with pride seeing many fire and rescue and airport fire and rescue services attend for very informative, networking days, each time growing from the last, with no agenda but to inform and increase awareness.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
Andy Slater from PGI Safety at the 2024 Particulate and Decontamination Technology and Awareness Seminar

Part of the change management at Biggin Hill is working with Andy Slater PGI Safety, Andy also takes great interest in other products in safety for firefighters as his son is one at Biggin Hill and West Sussex FRS, a caring dad at heart, wanting his lad safe.

Together Mick and Chris are trailing a system made by Toxic Suppression that ionises particles in the cab and breathing apparatus servicing room, a cleaner atmosphere as a concept.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
The Sentinel 300 from Toxic Suppression in a Fire Vehicle

My opinion is, it is a solid step in the right direction, air filtration and monitoring must be part of any contaminants strategy and can have great benefits. The importance of these end-user events is to garner feedback to assist in further developments.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
The Sentinel Tile from Toxic Suppression in Biggin Hill Airport

The team from Toxic Suppression, working with Andy Slater and doing the testing of equipment at Biggin Hill were delighted with the honest feedback, it will pave the way for further development, refinement, and tweaking.

What was clear at Biggin Hill is that many Keen people will I am sure develop the products and procedures that will save firefighter lives.

Thanks to Toxic Suppression for getting the ball rolling and seeking honest feedback.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
Toxic Suppression team presenting at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Station

So, what else is Biggin Hill doing?

Other great work at Biggin is the siting of air monitoring around the station measuring volatile organic compounds, through an app they can see in real time the effects of example an aircraft taxiing past the station.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
Air Monitoring at the station measuring Volatile Organic Compounds

This in turn can allow management to redesign work routines and methods to reduce exposure in daily working routines, protecting staff.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
Air Monitoring at the station measuring Volatile Organic Compounds

Pellet capsules made by TFT that react with VOCs (volatile organic compounds)are also in place around the station, supplied for trial by Alisdair Couper Terberg DTS, these change colour when exposed to those compounds that may be harmful and allow a visual indication of unsafe levels being reached.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
Pellet capsules made by TFT that react with VOCs

These can be placed in any vehicle or anywhere in the station and are a quick visual indicator. Only time will tell on the effectiveness of all these products, but we must start somewhere.

Station Manager Chris Thornton has worked tirelessly to introduce changes having attended many of my workshops and others to implement changes such as no work routine undertaken, no equipment tested or cleaned without nitrile gloves being worn and masks where appropriate, the whole station provisioned with gloves everywhere, so it stays in the mind’s eye.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services
Nitrile Gloves around Biggin Hill Airport Fire Station

Chris and Dave through their enthusiasm and passion for the safety of staff at Biggin Hill have worked so hard to bring in so many other key changes, supported by the whole station.

Mick O Brien gave his considerable support and worked tirelessly with directors encouraging and informing them of the need to care for his staff, right behind them at every step.

One issue was the design of the showers at the fire station.

Now they have modernised Showers, with De wipe products on station to encourage early showering a key factor in stopping absorption, reducing the risk, looking much improved to address highlighted staff concerns and are now ready to do a great job.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

Chris is a sound professional who thinks with his head and heart on the subject, and I would encourage anyone to reach out to Chris to chat about what’s being done, you will not find a better person anywhere to network with.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

My own huge favourite, after battling Prostate is seeing Biggin Hill join 5 other airports I work with to get PSA testing station-wide for over 40s or anyone who wants to have the test.

Chris, Mick, and the management team are very proud to have got this across the line.

Whilst the NHS currently does not recognise the need, in the USA it is recognised that early and routine testing saves lives and knowing a baseline to start from is a key element of that.

Coupled with this must be a clear understanding of what the testing does, what PSA doubling time means and its expected range.

Indeed, research from the USA shows that 29.8% of cancers are found through routine screening so why not for what it costs? Missing it will cost much more for organisations in the long run.

You can also carry out the 30-second risk checker at Prostate Cancer UK website but be aware that PCUK are aligned to the NHS and therefore doesn’t recognise testing at 40 but to the current UK guidelines which you can find on the NHS website or PCUK website.

However, to be clear, understanding is key so do not sleepwalk into this.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

Pros and cons of the PSA test


  • it may reassure you if the test result is normal.
  • it can find early signs of cancer, meaning you can get treated early.
  • PSA testing may reduce your risk of dying if you do have cancer.


  • it can miss cancer and provide false reassurance.
  • it may lead to unnecessary worry and medical tests when there’s no cancer.
  • it cannot tell the difference between slow-growing and fast-growing cancers.
  • it may make you worry by finding a slow-growing cancer that may never cause any problems.

It is not perfect by any means, but it does a key job early on and should not be dismissed. Indeed, as we are making GPS aware of the SNOWMED codes that inform them of exposures by firefighters,

My view is that they will consider hopefully testing sooner in line with the international viewpoint, firefighters are not like members of the public that current guidelines are based on, we know by science and medical fact the risk is elevated considerably, so why gamble for the sake of doctrine?

This short article is just a snapshot of the passion on show by Mick and his team. They will happily share information and discuss anything, please reach out.

We will only tackle firefighter and responder cancer effectively by breaking silo working and recognising a joined-up approach is the only way forward, we can save lives through awareness, but we need to drop agendas and egos.

If we talk of asbestos exposure, we jump through hoops to be safe on incidents, this is so much more, why is this fight so hard?

To achieve this, we must be open and transparent on what we are doing, what works but equally what does not work, lives are at stake so let’s not gamble but work at it.

I am happy to discuss any part of this and talk to anyone. Well done Biggin Hill, brilliant, keep it up.

Stay safe everyone, kind regards to you all John Lord.

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

Written by John Lord

John, the Managing Director of SimTrainer UK, is a seasoned professional with 45 years of experience in the fire and rescue sector, serving 32 years as an operational fire officer from 1979 to 2011 in various stations and roles. Over the past 13 years, he has dedicated his efforts to delivering accredited incident management training to airport fire and rescue services, local authority fire and rescue services, and other agencies.

His focus extends beyond firefighting to advocate for education on the risks of cancer in responders. This commitment stems from a personal journey with cancer which began in 2013, undergoing multiple operations, including addressing five tumours in his thumb. Witnessing his wife’s cancer battle the year before his diagnosis further fuelled his passion to educate and influence positive behavioural changes.

Emphasising the importance of saving lives through increased awareness, John believes in addressing unseen risks not only for firefighters but for all responders exposed to fires and other events. This mission led him and the SimTrainer UK team, with the support of Alisdair Couper (MD of Terberg DTS), to organise these responder cancer conferences, with the last year held in November 2022 at Cranfield University and with 140 delegates.

Beyond the conferences, John actively supports newly diagnosed individuals, offering insights into the mental health challenges of a cancer diagnosis. He is also available to deliver talks shedding light on the reality of particulate impacts on responders. Through his experiences, John aims to make a meaningful difference in behaviours and contribute to the well-being of those facing similar challenges.

Contact John at john@simtrainer.uk

Protecting Firefighters at Biggin Hill Airport Fire Services

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