December 7 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Norfolk fire service’s dive team has a new top-of-the-range inflatable work boat that can be used to get to any type of water.
The Dereham-based nine-man Underwater Search and Recovery Unit (UWSAR) is unique for being the only one in Britain operated by a fire and rescue service.
It can be called into action to work anywhere in Britain, and even in Europe, and can begin a search within 24 hours of being called.
The new WB-525 boat from Zodiac Milpro has already become a vital piece of equipment for the team. It is 5.25m long and can be towed behind a 4WD vehicle and launched wherever the team’s services are needed.
While it’s powered by a 40hp outboard engine, it’s capable of being fitted with engines up to 55hp, and it can cope with fast-flowing rivers and dangerous flood conditions to deliver the dive team quickly and safely to its search location.
It also has a special recovery cradle and can carry up to 12 people or a payload of 1,500kg.
Dan Roper, cabinet member for public protection at Norfolk County Council, said: “The dive team does a fantastic job as part of our fire and rescue team both in flood work and the assistance the team provides to the police.
“This new boat comes on top of existing funding from the county council and Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and significantly increases our capacity to deal with emergencies.”
The dive unit was created using funding from Defra as part of the government’s national flood resilience enhancement programme to provide a specialist resource deployable in the event of a major flood.
The team regularly operates in support of police underwater operations and the divers have been trained in the skills needed by police divers such as search operations and the use of forensic recovery techniques.
Because the divers are all working firefighters they are additionally qualified to use hot and cold cutting tools that may be necessary to reach an accident victim. Team members are also specialist swift water rescue technicians and rescue boat operators.
The Norfolk UWSAR unit is led by Alan Nicholls who has many years of experience as a professional diver.
His team is made-up of military, commercial and police-trained divers whose training in underwater forensic search techniques was provided locally by police colleagues while police search team training has been provided in Bramshill, Hampshire.
In addition, advanced training in swift water diving gives them a range of expertise that enables them to operate in the most challenging conditions and they are consequently qualified to work in tidal or non-tidal waters in an area extending from the low water line to 12 miles offshore and at depths down to 50 metres.
When this capability is combined with their skills as firefighters, the team probably represents one of the most versatile and highly-trained civilian dive teams in the country.