AN ELITE group of firefighters based in Droitwich underwent a day of specialist training this week to prepare them for the worst kind of catastrophes.
The Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) is one of 21 strategically placed teams across England and Wales and one of just two in the West Midlands. The Government’s New Dimension programme created USAR following the 9/11 attack on the USA – it was recognised multiple, large scale attacks on the UK would be difficult to cope with effectively by individual fire and rescue services.
Since June the Droitwich watch has been working tirelessly to get up to scratch on using a range of equipment and procedures which allows it to make a co-ordinated response to national crises and disasters. Based at Droitwich Fire Station are two USAR teams of ten and 14 on-call officers. And Standard reporter Beth Sharp went along to see the kind of training they have to do first hand.
On Monday (August 18), the ten firefighters were faced with a concrete structure simulated to look like the aftermath of a bomb blast.
The team was given a brief description of the situation, which included the building containing a number of casualties (human dummies) and an array of obstacles that had to be overcome. Among them were large concrete slabs, heavy objects and debris.
The station has a contract with the scrapyard which provides them with everything they need for effective training exercises – rubble, old cars and other scrap materials to name a few.
Before doing anything a hole was made and a camera was used to look inside the building for clues, casualties and for a way to scope the structure out so, when they knock their way through, they know exactly what is behind it.
The crew had to work their way slowly through the building by cutting through concrete and moving heavy objects such as wood and debris.
The building was very enclosed which meant you often needed to crawl and climb your way through – not for the feint hearted or claustrophobics.
Firefighters also rely on building plans to give them a general idea of what is facing them and they also use a special search and rescue dog, complete with their very own protective boots so their paws do not get hurt. The hound is much quicker and finds it much easier to get into buildings and find casualties.
The Droitwich station is one half fire and rescue and one half USAR so stocks a whole range of equipment. Amongst it is four rescue boats and a heavy rescue fire engine equipped to deal with large vehicles like large lorries and tractors.
The station is also unique in being the home of the only incident support vehicle across Hereford and Worcestershire.
The van carries important equipment to bring relief to firefighters during an incident, such as an inflatable to provide shelter, heating and lighting and the all essential tea and coffee for when crew members rotate and have a break.
The three special USAR modules, which attach to the backs of lorries, are packed full of equipment specially designed for disasters and eventualities including clasped buildings, confined space rescues and heavy transport incidents with trains, planes and big lorries.
One of the team said: “We have the skills, equipment and training to put into affect any rescue scenario – there is not much we cannot do.
“There is always a way, it might just take longer.”
The team members clearly all absolutely love what they do and the most amazing thing about them is they not only handle their everyday responsibilities as firefighters for the people of Droitwich and the surrounding areas but they also manage to juggle the intense training which all comes with the USAR role.
They are always ready and more than prepared to leave and respond to any incidents which could keep them away from home for up to seven days at the drop of a hat. It is truly comforting to know one of the most dedicated fire services in the country, who can deal with any situation thrown at them, is right on Droitwich’s doorstep.
The team faced a tough challenge as part of their training, having to overcome difficult obstacles and make potentially vital decisions.