They are a brand new breed of elite paramedics, specially trained and equipped to boldly go where the ambulance service has never been before.
The men and women of the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) no longer have to sit on the sidelines when major, hazardous incidents occur, waiting for the casualties to be brought to them.
Now these ‘super’ paramedics take their clinical and medical expertise to the scene - whether that means going into a burning building, scaling great heights or going into chemical disaster zones.
Never before has South Central Ambulance Service been able to get to the heart of such dangerous situations.
‘This is completely new for the service,’ says Simon Moorwood, leader of the White Team – one of the seven crews that make up our area’s HART, based in Eastleigh.
‘Before HART the ambulance service could not go into hazardous zones, which are called “hot zones”. But now we can.
‘So for example if there’s a fire, before we would have had to wait for the casualty to be brought out, but now we can go in with the firefighters, alongside them.
‘It now means there’s no delay in casualties getting treatment because we can go straight to them.’
South Central Ambulance Service’s HART, which launched in February this year, consists of 42 paramedics who are split into teams of six. They are the cream of the crop and have been picked from thousands of applicants across the country.
They have a range of equipment and protective suits for every situation, and an array of vehicles which help in every eventuality.
Their primary role is now to respond to hazardous incidents, although they do still get to go out on routine ambulance shifts.
Our HART is one of 13 that have been set up in the country so far. Funded by the Home Office, the teams came about as a result of the 7/7 London bombings in 2005 – when a series of co-ordinated suicide attacks targeted Londoners using the public transport system.
Three bombs were detonated on the London Underground and major flaws and limitations were highlighted in the emergency response of the ambulance service in the capital.
‘The ambulance service couldn’t get to the casualties in the underground, because it was a hot zone,’ says Simon.
‘It was hazardous and the paramedics didn’t have the protection or equipment to go down there. It was recognised that something needed to be done.
‘There was talk of firefighters being clinically trained to treat casualties, but then it was decided paramedics should instead be trained to go into hazardous incidents.’
In the event of another terrorist attack on the capital, our South Central’s HART would head to London to assist.
But as well as being on alert to help with national incidents, they are on hand to help save more lives in our area.
They have the equipment and protective gear – including fire suits and gas tight suits – to be able to go to the heart of hazardous incidents.
Recent examples of incidents they have attended include a gas explosion at a home in Gosport last week, which was reported in The News.
And HART also attended a flat fire in Portsmouth on Monday this week – although it was stood down once it was discovered to be a fatality.
Other incidents the team go to include chemical suicides when hazardous, dangerous substances are present. They can also assist in structural collapse incidents, floods and water rescues, get to the heart of major road traffic incidents, and even be called to nuclear, biological and radiological incidents.
These were once deemed unsafe working environments for paramedics.
And the role for our teams in this area could change even more in the future and see them providing critical care in a wider range of incidents.
Simon says: ‘We will probably provide a maritime response some time in the future, helping with fires on ships, and if crew have fallen from a great height on board.’