Northern USAR teams work together on major resilience exercise

Last month, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service hosted Exercise Zonesa – a complex training exercise that saw Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) specialists from five fire and rescue services co-ordinate a joint response to a major incident.

Teams from West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Lincolnshire and Lancashire travelled to TWFRS headquarters for day 1 of the exercise, which was based on a scenario involving a mid-air collision. The training ground was transformed into the landing site for some of the resulting debris and featured a damaged multi-storey parking structure and railway tunnel.

Simulated multi storey car park

USAR Instructor Martin Ward explained: “The scenarios on our training ground put a range of USAR skills to the test, including hot cutting, breaching and breaking, safe working at height and dealing with confined spaces.

Each of the visiting teams were assigned to one of these areas, while the TWFRS team ran the operation’s logistics. North East Ambulance Service’s Hazardous Area Response Team were also onsite.”

The ability to mobilise as a large team was also tested when Northumbria Police provided a blue light convoy for 10 USAR trucks. The group moved from Washington to RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria for day 2 of the exercise, where the teams were merged and challenged further with scenarios that called for heavy lifting and line access and casualty extrication.

Technicians lift a tank

TWFRS Chief Fire Officer Chris Lowther observed the teams throughout day 1. He said: “USAR technicians train hard to prepare for the most challenging of situations. Thankfully, these skills are not needed often, but in the event of a large scale incident these specialists would be called upon to work as one team – so they’re always ready.

The successful completion of Exercise Zonesa was a major achievement resulting from a lot of hard work, particularly from our USAR instructors who planned it. Thank you to everyone involved, including our colleagues from Northumbria Police, North East Ambulance Service and RAF Spadeadam.”

Each of the USAR teams from Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire consist of 30 people and the skill sets of each team are identical. USAR teams are national resilience assets, so they could be deployed to anywhere in the country if needed.

A search dog is deployed