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Firefighters rehearse train disaster plans

FIREFIGHTERS from Solihull attended a two-train crash involving hazardous chemicals as part of an intense training exercise.

FIREFIGHTERS from Solihull attended a two-train crash involving hazardous chemicals as part of an intense training exercise.

Crews from Bickenhill fire station rushed to the scene at Small Heath level crossing on a blisteringly hot Saturday morning as part of Exercise Hogwarts, where passengers, including this writer, had to be evacuated from trains provided by Chiltern Railways.

Making my acting debut as a casualty, alongside a number of other volunteers, was an insight into the workings of West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS).

Bickenhill station is next door to the high risk areas of Birmingham International Airport, the NEC and the railway station, and for this reason a specialist Technical Rescue Unit, established after 9/11, is also based there, which has millions of pounds worth of specialist equipment.

Station Commander Paul Riley said: “The public perception is of pool tables and football in the station and that’s just not the case.

“This station has to plan for major risks, which we can resolve.

“The fire service faces major cuts over the next five years - front line services haven’t been mentioned yet.”

He said the service had made £7 million worth of efficiency savings since 2002, with £1 million over the last 12 months, which “should not affect the front line.” Millions more has been spent on better appliances.

Other firefighters spoke of fears that their pension pots are likely to be raided.

At around 11am a call is received by WMFS Fire Control to report a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals has collided with a passenger train carrying people who have been ‘injured’ or ‘killed’.

Bickenhill’s Green Watch Commander Gary Alder, said: “This type of exercise, using 15 pumps (fire engines), is held once a year. We do smaller exercises once a week.

“There was a few months preparation for this- this will be treated as if it was a real event.”

Saturday’s training aims included risk management, command and control of incidents, safety measures at fires, environmental protection, testing breathing apparatus, tackling hazardous substances, rail incident protocol, working with Network Rail, and railway safety for emergency services.

Watch Commander Alder added: “We look at numerous factors, including keeping firefighters hydrated, cordons, live lines, respect for the train and casualties, health and safety, lifting, ladders, unstable ground, aluminium chloride - which is water reactive - and wind direction.

“Around 50 firefighters were on standby for the exercise.”

Some were wearing 25lb of kit and 25lbs of breathing apparatus with a 30-minute air supply, which could go down to half that if the wearer is breathing heavily.

A brand new control panel system, used to locate firefighters at the scene of a fire and introduced after the death of four firefighters in Warwickshire in 2007, was also used during the exercise.

Firefighter David Powell said: “This was mainly about casualty management - there was a lot for officers in charge to think about.”

Firefighters work four shifts to provide 24/7 cover and the exercise showed them to be dedicated, friendly, fit and disciplined men and women.



Cathrina Hulse
Multimedia Journalist
Annette Belcher
Multimedia Journalist
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