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Fire Service exercise a huge success

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Exercise Olympus, which was held at the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh on Saturday and Sunday (17 – 18 March), achieved its all of its objectives and also gave the firefighters and other agencies taking part an invaluable learning experience.

The principal aim of the exercise was to provide an opportunity for fire crews and partners to work together as they would in the event of a major search and rescue incident, and to make every stage of the exercise as realistic and as challenging as possible to maximise the learning potential.

The exercise simulated an explosion at a university campus, involving a building collapse with a large number of casualties and many people unaccounted for, plus a series of distraction events over the course of the 36-hour exercise. As in a genuine emergency, local fire crews were first to arrive at the scene, followed by ambulance crews, further fire crews and appliances (including the Aerial Ladder Platform and Incident & Command Support Units) and also USAR (Urban Search & Rescue) teams and equipment from both the local area, and South Wales and Merseyside. Shropshire and Gloucestershire fire and rescue services also participated, and fleet technicians from HWFRS also attended to look after the many vehicles involved in the exercise.

HWFRS' Deputy Chief Fire Officer Richard Lawrence said: "We regularly hold training exercises that involve our fire crews or our USAR teams but this is the first time we have involved both, on such a major scale, and invited other fire and rescue services to take part as well.

"The key to the exercise was to make it seem as realistic as possible and this was achieved by using the excellent facilities at the Fire Service College, which allowed us to create a building collapse and a series of fires and other incidents as the exercise progressed. Rather than using dummies as casualties, we went the next step and used live casualties, with our Community Safety Volunteers and our Young Firefighters from Redditch and Droitwich acting as the walking wounded, professionals from Amputees in Action acting as casualties trapped in the rubble pile, and art & design students from Worcester Technology College using their impressive make-up skills to simulate a range of different injuries.

"As with a real incident, the exercise didn't stop as darkness fell but instead the specialist teams worked through the night to locate and rescue the injured."

He confirmed that Exercise Olympus had been a major logistical challenge but that the many months of planning had proved worthwhile, with procedures tested and all those who participated taking away some important learning. Partnership working was tested at many levels and the inter-operability radio system, allowing the individual agencies to communicate with each other more effectively, was also tested during the exercise.

He added: "We had our own team of observers monitoring and evaluating the exercise, while observers from the National Resilience Assurance Team also attended. Several of our Fire Authority Members also came along, and were able to get a better insight into the work we do and a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the multi-agency response to a large scale emergency incident."

He ended: "The exercise came to a close on Sunday afternoon, and although those who took part were understandably exhausted by then, their effort and commitment over the two days was second to none and I hope they look back on the experience with pride. There's no doubt at all that we will all be better prepared if we are faced with an emergency on this scale in the future."