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Thursday, February 6, 2014
The recent tidal surge and helicopter tragedy at Cley Marshes proved the value of Norfolk’s urban search and rescue team. KATE SCOTTER spent the day with the specialised team to find out more about their varied skills.
Based in the centre of Norfolk is a specialised team which is ready and prepared for whatever the world wants to throw at it – whether it’s plane crashes, floods, stranded animals, collapsed buildings.
The Norfolk Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, based at Dereham fire station, was set up in 2006 in response to the September 11 bombings.
As one of 20 teams across England and Wales, its 14 full-time members of staff respond to crises all over the region and nationally.
The award-winning Norfolk team has quickly become one of the highest regarded in the country with its ability to turn its hand to water-based emergencies with its two rescue boats and dive team, their rope and chainsaw capabilities and their diverse range of specialist equipment – the team also boasts a trained rescue dog, black labrador Hooky.
In Dereham, the 14 full-time crew is split across two “watches” – blue watch and red watch – and there are 16 on-call technicians.
All of the members are fully-qualified firefighters and can help with serious road traffic collisions, involving lorries, trains and planes, rope and water rescues, flooding, people trapped in confined spaces, land and water searches and animal rescues.
They work 12-hour shifts, predominantly 7am to 7pm, working four days on, four days off.
Scott Field has been in the rescue team for nearly eight years, since its creation. The career move was a far cry from his previous jobs which saw him spend 10 years as a lobster fisherman in Wales and then work for a company making flotation therapy baths when he first moved to Norfolk in 2001.
To join the service, he first had to undergo a 36-hour “beasting” which saw him and fellow rescue team hopefuls be put through their paces, lugging a telegraph pole through mud and water and proving themselves to be extraordinary team workers with the physical and mental attributes required for the role.
The 41-year-old, who lives in Hingham with his wife and two children, said: “It’s a vital service because it’s added to the technical capability of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service in so much that we are able to deal with everything and anything that gets put in front of us.
“It takes the pressure off front-line appliances to deal with protracted incidents. We are not there to take over but to support, so it alleviates the amount of people needed.”
Incidents they are called out on vary from removing trees which have fallen into the road to cars which have crashed into a building. They are called out to major events including the recent helicopter at Cley Marshes and tidal surge but also deal with incidents such as removing a horse which has fallen into a ditch.
When they are not out, the 14 men spend their time training and honing their skills. This can entail abseiling down their specially-built tower at the Dereham Fire Station, which is also the base for retained firefighters, and taking part in confined spaces drills.
They also take part in two training days a month and they team up with other teams across the country for large-scale training scenarios at least once a year.
Such training missions will see them attempt to rescue “trapped survivors” from planes which have crashed into trees or a lake.
“In a given week, we don’t know what we will get. You get down here thinking you may get a water incident, only to find out a car’s gone into a building.
“That’s what interested me the most – the fact that it’s never the same job twice,” said Mr Field, who is part of the Red Watch, together with watch manager Duncan Barrow, crew manager Glen Roskilly, David Jackson, James Little, Steven Halsey and Adam Watts.
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