THE emergency services surveyed the nightmare scenario they were faced with.
A train had ploughed into a minibus full of students, a motorcyclist was trapped beneath its wheels, and inside smoke-filled carriages passengers were banging on the windows and crying out for help.
With sparks and small explosions going off all around them, it was enough to test even the most hardened veterans of Hampshire Fire and Rescue, South Central Ambulance Service and the British Transport Police.
But that was precisely the point. Yesterday the Fratton Traincare Depot was the setting for the area’s biggest training exercise of the year; to make sure when such a disaster happens for real, everyone is ready.
From 11am until 2pm, the teams dealt with a simulation of three vehicles colliding on a level crossing before being hit by a three-carriage train.
They were aided by about 50 actors, make-up artists and students from South Downs College, along with a special effects team.
Faced with all this chaos the most crucial thing, according to the Hampshire Fire and Rescue group manager in charge, Nick Davies, is not to rush in and make mistakes.
And to reinforce his message, the first two firefighters on to the train were quickly declared ‘dead’ after dragging their hose over what would have been a live third rail.
He said: ‘The purpose of this exercise is that we can actually put into practice all of our procedures and training and everything we would do in a real incident.
‘We are able to look at how we act and whether what we did was right or if we need to review our training. It gives us practice with working with other agencies.’
He said that the day’s training had been nine months in the planning and involved a total of 13 fire engines and 75 firefighters.
During the day his firefighters had to enter use their breathing equipment to battle smoke and rescue passengers, douse the flames of a fire that started in the totalled minibus, and then use their tools to cut passengers free.
And there was help from local businesses to pull the whole thing off: B&Q and EMR Metals donated building materials for the crash site, scaffolding and viewing platforms were provided by Beaver Tool Hire; Fitness First and Crazy Caves supplied facilities for the casualties and Asda in Fratton provided refreshments.