Sim-plicity: I am an airport firefighter

Christopher Livingston at

It's time to kick the tires and light the fires and then quickly and safely put the fires out, with Airport Firefighter Simulator!

We're all familiar with the three major problems that plague modern air travel:

  • flights are costly
  • delays are extensive and common
  • airports are constantly engulfed in all-consuming flames

At least that's the impression I'm getting from Airport Firefighter Simulator, a game that combines the simulated threat of airport fires with the simulated activity of you putting them out. I almost didn't play this game because, as I explained last week, I've retired from video game heroism, and being a firefighter is pretty damn heroic. It struck me, however, that for all the great swaths of time I've spent in airports over the years, I've never been in one that was in the process of being burned to the ground.

I even checked with my father, who spent most of his career working in a control tower at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and he couldn't remember a single airport fire during his tenure, either. So, as a simulated airport firefighter, I assume my activities will include chairing a few safety meetings, perhaps outlining some training courses for new employees, hosting a monthly potluck with a vague fire-prevention theme, and making a daily walk to change the numbers on the big sign that reads "11,643 Days Without A Horrible Deadly Airport Inferno." No heroics needed!

The simulation begins with my first day on the job. To a blaring electronic soundtrack, the Fire Chief shows me around the cavernous three-story airport fire-fighting complex, walking with the pace of a man who has spent his life battling not fires but chronic fatigue syndrome. During his irritatingly slow ramble, I entertain myself by doing parkour on all the available surfaces, since the game has thoughtfully given me the ability to jump eight feet in the air from a standing position. Then, the Chief and I drive trucks around on a long, highly informative tour of the airport runways and buildings.

 

Cool story, bro.

The next morning at dawn, I'm abruptly teleported into the conference room, where the Chief holds a meeting with all the other firefighters, who appear to have all been cloned in a lab from the Chief's DNA. As this is my first day, my sole responsibility is to drive the perimeter of the airport and look for holes in the chain link fence. While I don't find any holes, I do find a couple giant exclamation points sitting near the fence that I surmise are intended to represent holes. Yes, it would have been nice if the makers of this game had taken the time to draw an actual hole in the fence, but hey, this isn't Airport Fence Hole Simulator, right? Except for part where I'm spending all day driving around looking for airport fence holes, I mean.

"Roll call! Chief?" "Here." "Here." "Here." "Here."

I've found my third giant exclamation point when the techno music that is constantly being piped into my truck suddenly shifts to a slightly different kind of techno music, indicating that something more thrilling than reporting suspicious punctuation marks is about to happen. It's an alarm! A fire alarm! I flip on my siren, my flashing lights, my headlights, my hazard lights, one of my turn signals, and pretty much anything else that can made to blink or wail, and speed off to fight my first fire. Screw my desire to not be a hero: I am going to be a hero!

Or not.

After the excitement of extinguishing a garbage can fire, it's going to be hard going back to my job as fence inspector, but the danger of invading exclamation points is ever-present and I will not shirk my duty to drive around and look at them. Alas, a few minutes of fence-looking later, another alarm is raised! I speed off again, my many lights blinking and flashing, to find another small trash can on fire. As the day wears on, a third fire occurs, then a fourth, then a fifth, all tiny blazes in garbage bins next to buildings, all easily tamed with the fire extinguisher I carry in my trunk.

Seeing as how it's now four in the morning, it feels like I should maybe take a break or sleep or something. I head back to base, jump to the third floor, and try to flop down on a bed for a nap. The game, however, tells me I can't sleep in a bed that isn't mine. What? Every firefighter in this place looks identical, and the game is suddenly picky about whose bed is whose? I stalk through the six different bunk rooms, looking for the specific bed that is assigned to me. Before I find it, I'm interrupted by my sixth alarm of the day, and race back out onto the tarmac, only to be told it's either a false alarm or the fire put itself out. Personally, at an airport that has had a half-dozen fires on a single day, I would suggest maybe doing a little investigation into a fire, regardless of whether or not it put itself out, but hey, what do I know? I'm not the Fire Chief. In fact, I'm the only one who is not the Fire Chief.

The next morning, I'm warped into the daily clone assembly, where the Chief tells me I can take out the tanker truck on patrol. I jump in, immediately get notified of a fire, race off to put it out, and promptly crash directly into a landing aircraft. Ironically, perhaps, crashing a speeding tanker truck into a taxiing airplane does not result in a fire.

As punishment for destroying a truck, damaging an airplane, and threatening the lives of hundreds of people, I get the day off, and the next morning I'm given a new truck and told I can go on patrol or just hang out at the base waiting for the inevitable rash of garbage fires. I don't feel comfortable hanging around with an bunch of clones, so I drive around inspecting the fence, not really sure if that's still part of my duties or not. Fires break out every few minutes, naturally, though today they're a bit more serious. The landing gear on a jumbo jet, an entire small plane, several helicopters, they all burn. Again, no need to look into the causes. It's a statistical fact that, in the course of a day, an airport loses between 10-15% of its operating aircraft to mysterious fires. Hell, one morning, there's a tree on fire right next to the fire station, just feet from where all the cloned firefighters live their ungodly, scientifically created existences.

I'm no expert, but shouldn't the hose I'm holding be connected to the truck with all the water in it?

Finally, I graduate from tanker truck to Panther, which is a major piece of firefighting equipment and absolutely something you just give to a guy who has been working here for five days and who has already crashed into a moving airplane. I'm excited by the promotion, but I'm a little concerned, because BUTTONS. Instead of buttons for sirens and lights, there are buttons for a hundred other things that have not been explained to me, because the Chief probably figured I just had all that information in my head because he's so used to working with people who have his actual head.

wait what

So, I drive to a nice quiet spot and start poking one hundred buttons at random. I somehow make a giant arm extend up and forward, and then a thing on the arm kind of sticks out and moves back and forth, and then something else kind of moves side to side. After some practice, I'm definitely ready to protect Newt from the Alien Queen, but I have no idea how this giant moving thing is going to help me put out burning garbage cans. As if on cue, a fire is reported, so I start driving with the giant arm up and out because I don't know how to make it come down and in and even if I did I probably wouldn't be able to make it come up and out again, but apparently with the arm up and out you can only drive a few inches per hour, so I miss the fire, and despite having nine other firefighting trucks at the airport, no one else bothers to pitch in and help, so we lose our operating license and the airport is shut down.

Conclusion: I am a good airport firefighter, not because I am good at fighting airport fires, but because I was so bad at fighting airport fires that I got this airport shut down which will prevent one million fires because this airport is constantly suffering from one million fires.