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Insights International Fire Academy

The ultimate product stress test at the International Fire Academy

The International Fire Academy in Balsthal, Switzerland, ifa for short, is the world’s leading centre of excellence for dealing with (fire) incidents in tunnels. At a 36,000 m² training ground, fire and rescue service teams are prepared and trained in surroundings as realistic as possible for road and rail tunnel operations.

In this article, we explain what ifa relies on in its training company and how SmartEm equipment supports rescue operations in deep tunnels

Graduates from all over the world

The ifa enjoys a strong reputation transcending national borders. Participants from 23 countries have already honed their tunnel rescue skills at the ifa. Thanks to the realistic training tunnels 300 m long, the ifa programme is well received the world over.

Fortunately, fires rarely break out in underground traffic systems, so fire and rescue services have little experience in these conditions. This is exactly where ifa comes in, creating environments for learning and experience bundled together with technical sophistication and training expertise: with its concept of learning from experience, realistic scenarios are created to enable fire and rescue services to experience relevant operations. The situations are enacted over and over, until every move and interaction by the teams is correct. Most important of all: fire service teams gain valuable experience without being exposed to uncontrolled risks.

Equipment used in training: a stress test

Several thousand fire and rescue service teams undergo training at the tactics centre and practice tunnels every year. They learn, among other things, techniques that should facilitate rescue under the particular conditions found in underground traffic systems.

The use of the rescue equipment at the ifa training company is the ultimate stress test. With almost 200 courses each year, equipment and materials are put under enormous pressure. Only the most robust rescue equipment can withstand the stress test, so we are all the more delighted that the SmartEm basket stretcher passes this stress test successfully every day.

Using the Carapace basket stretcher at the International Fire Academy in Balsthal.

Marianne Wernli, Head of Training at ifa, put this in a nutshell:

If rescue equipment has proven itself in use at ifa, then it will last the course.

Varied use for the SmartEm basket stretcher

Whether during exercises in fighting tunnel fires or in construction site simulations – use of the basket stretcher at ifa is notable for its versatility. In both situations, the basket stretcher is used to transport equipment at the start of the operation, and then to head further into the danger zone.

Use on constructions sites: transporting equipment using the basket stretcher with removable wheels

On coming back, however, the basket stretcher has to withstand various applications rescuing the injured, whether from tunnels or construction sites. On the one hand, they are carried horizontally by rescue workers through the road or rail tunnels, placing heavy demands on the twisting stability. On the other, construction site operations involve the basket stretcher in constant contact with the ground while fully loaded, as the rescue worker pulls it behind him for approx. 400 m, dragging it over uneven terrain.

Special requirements for tunnel rescues operations

The heat, having to descend as far as 300 m, and poor visibility are among the greatest challenges facing rescue workers in tunnels. Therefore, best-possible functionality and support are essential features of rescue equipment. In particular, ease of use in times of stress, but also reliability are the be-all and end-all: because if a call comes in at 4 a.m., there is no time for questions. Mechanics take precedence over electronics: unnecessary technical bells and whistles, with an increased risk of failure, are strictly avoided.

When working in tunnels: poor visibility and the bedrock in the railway tunnel in particular make use difficult

Demanding conditions require special tools: to make it easier to use in tunnels, SmartEm further developed the Carapace basket stretcher in conjunction with ifa.

Thanks to the detachable runners system, it is now possible to cover long distances along the ground in total confidence. The Caraskid runners are made of high-strength polyamide and are mounted underneath, which hugely prolongs the basket stretcher service life. The Carachasis chassis also makes it easier to transport heavy equipment thanks to its removable wheels, making progress faster.

Our conclusion

The realistic conditions in the ifa practice tunnels are nothing short of impressive: under carefully controlled conditions, fire and rescue service teams get valuable advice and learn techniques to use in underground traffic systems – a programme of courses which are in great demand, and with good reason.

Are you interested in the training courses on offer at the International Fire Academy (ifa)? Find out more at


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