Firefighters show how they train to keep us safe

David Sanderson

Decorated police officer fined for assault after ‘head-butting’ woman

2
Have your say

Wielding a pneumatic bolt cutter at head height, the race is on to cut Baz out of his crashed car.

The Renault Clio has flipped on to its side and six firefighters are all desperately trying to get him out.

Firefighting training at Fareham Fire Station.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (132877-3)

Firefighting training at Fareham Fire Station.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (132877-3)

The sound of metal crunches under the machinery and firefighters constantly, but calmly, shout instructions to each other.

A huge metal spanner-type tool comes out and is winched down across the windscreen, its blade gradually cutting through the tough glass.

Baz’s head is being held by one firefighter and a white sheet is placed over him to protect him from the metal files and glass shards.

Luckily, Baz is used to this – he’s a dummy used by firefighters to recreate road traffic collisions so they can keep up to date with the latest advances in equipment and procedures.

Baz makes weekly appearances across Fareham Fire Station’s four watches, as they simulate exercises while they wait for real-life emergencies to come in.

Today he is part of the blue watch training, overseen by watch manager Simon Wheelan, who has invited me along to get hands-on.

Simon explains, ‘Training is a big part of the job.

‘There’s a 14-week training course that you have to complete when you get through, and that’s before you even come into the station.

‘The firefighters then spend three to four years on probation before they become a fully qualified firefighter. It’s quite a lot you have to go through, and that’s just the basic training which makes sure that when you are on a truck, you are of some use.’

We all know how important training can be to any job, and firefighters are no different. They have a continual rolling training programme, which they have to fit around emergencies, and which they are continually assessed on.

Today the team is being signed off road traffic collision training by an instructor, which is why Baz’s car is on its side at the back of the fire station.

‘Today we are honing our skills for road traffic collisions,’ says Simon.

‘The practical training we do each day shift. We try and get out for at least the morning to hone our skills and learn as much as possible so when we go out on an emergency we know exactly what to do.’

Each firefighter’s individual progress is pinned up in the station manager’s office, so he can see what areas they need to focus on.

The records are also stored electronically, which flag up in a traffic light system the areas the firefighters need to cover, say for instance, if they have missed a part of training due to dealing with an emergency or through days off.

Simon says, ‘There is a two-year cycle and everything we have to know is planned into those two years. It is a rotated two-year cycle.

‘Some things, depending whether they are safety critical, are done every year. Some things are done every three months, like breathing apparatus training and smoke assessment.

‘These are critical things that could have a disastrous consequence if we weren’t sure what to do in a real fire. At the other end of the scale, there might be an awareness course on say, nuclear weapons, which we would have to do in a classroom and learn what they are, what they could do and what we could do about it. That’s the range of training, and obviously there is a lot of safety critical training we need to do regularly.’

The training is a vital part of this important work, and is supported by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

‘We try to spend about half our time training, either practical or theory training through lectures,’ says Simon.

‘The other half we will be doing home fire safety visits, giving safety visits, going round commercial premisses and getting information to update our database

‘There’s a whole raft of incidents that we could go out to.

‘We need to be top of the game for any incident. You never know what’s coming. The bells could go at any second.

‘We need to be at the top of our game and professional when we get there. We need to keep that training ongoing so we can be the best.’

It’s a constant learning cycle for these firefighters and one they have to keep up-to-date with to be able to give the best service.

Remember, if their training is not 100 per cent accurate then it’s not just a case of an unhappy customer, it could be life or death.

PASSING THE SAFETY MESSAGE ON

THE scene of a crashed car, up on its side, and dented, with a smashed windscreen is a shocking one.

And it’s certainly one that makes you think twice about road safety.

A crash test dummy lays strewn, it’s neck bent and crooked, and it’s legs trapped under the steering wheel. For added effect, the tax discs have come out of the holder and a smear of strawberry jam is across the dashboard.

Fareham Fire Station regularly hosts Teenager Road Accident Prevention Training courses, which are designed to show teenagers what could happen to them.

Simon Wheelan, blue watch manager, says, ‘They generally get referred to us, say for instance if they have been seen joy riding or are seen by services as a potential risk, We will then show them what we are all about and how we react to accidents.

‘We will show them a car crash, put them in there and show them what driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can do. Or how using your phone, or not wearing your seat belt, can end up.

‘We show them road safety, and it’s about getting that message across to them.

‘The idea is to get that safety message across before they pass their test so they know the dangers. Even if they are a passenger in a car, then they know to put their seat belt on, or to say when something is wrong and persuade the driver not to drive.’

BLUES AND TWOS

SLIPPING my size six feet into big black rubber boots, and tightening the braces on my Fire Service issued trousers, this is certainly a different world from my usual Fareham patch stomping.

I have been invited along for an exclusive look at what firefighters at Fareham Fire Station do in their downtime.

I had visions of them sitting around, sipping tea, having a cosy chat, while waiting for the phone to ring.

In fact, the reality is very different.

After a briefing from Simon Wheelan, the watch manager, we are taken out the back for this morning’s training exercise - a road traffic collision.

The marker sounds and they are off, a hive of activity. Dozens of bits of equipment are off-loaded from the truck and carefully laid out.

We are mid-rescue, when the phone rings out over the tannoy. A booming voice announces that we need to go.

And we are off, every piece of equipment is carefully and systemically loaded back on to the truck. I am loaded into the back, wearing an observer tabard, and on goes the blue light and sirens. We race out of the fire station and through Fareham town centre to a truck in Wickham.

In the wet weather and with his windows steamed up, the driver has reversed into a stone bollard, hitting his tank and causing gallons of fuel to leak on to the road.

The Fire Service has been called as this could potentially cause other vehicles to slip unless it is cleared up promptly.

As the rain beats down, the driver looks devastated at the damage, protesting that he had only been in the job a few weeks and that it was his daughter’s birthday, which he had been trying to get home for.

It sounds like he’s having a bad day.

In my regulation fire kit, I’m relatively dry and get to see the special putty they use to block the hole in the fuel tank.

They clear up the diesel, and fill in endless forms to let the Environment Agency know what has happened.

I even get a chance to wash the fuel from the road with the truck’s hose.

As we are almost finished, another call comes in an the truck’s radio system.

A woman is stuck in a lift in Whiteley, and as Whiteley is serviced by Fareham and Hightown, a truck is called from each station.

This time there’s no flashing blue lights, as lift rescues are not deemed to be serious enough unless the person’s health is at risk. So we are off, but as it’s busy because of the bad weather, everybody is out in their cars, and we are slow to get to the woman because of traffic.

We sit patiently at every red light and Simon explains that however tempting it might be, they are not allowed to turn on the sirens to skip past.

When we get to the business district in Whiteley, another fire engine is already there. Hightown has beaten us to it. But even they didn’t get to act the hero, as the lift engineer was on site and had already stepped in with his spanner and rescued the woman.

That leaves us with the difficult task of manoeuvring past all the badly parked and tightly cramped cars in the car park. Reversing that truck is a skill in its own right, and I wonder how many people would have been quite so quick to park their cars in those awkward spaces if they realised just how close that truck came to their wing mirrors.

Also how their car could have meant the difference of life an death, had a real fire taken place.

Back to the top of the page