Terror attacks at a leisure centre, acid burns from corrosive chemicals and chronic sickness caused by a mystery white powder may sound like an episode of CSI. However, these nightmare scenarios are the events that Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service have recently been training their crews to deal with at Gibraltar Barracks, Yateley.
Firefighters were put through three immersive exercises designed to make sure the Service is prepared for every possible incident including those involving hazardous materials.
The scenarios covered Initial Operational Response (IOR) - the vital first minutes after crews arrive and the impact they can have before specialist teams reach the scene.
Crew Manager Frank Long said: “Should any of the incidents from the scenarios happen it is likely that local crews will arrive before our specialist HazMat teams.
“The difference they can make in just a few minutes can be dramatic.
“We have now run four sessions like this with small groups of firefighters and further exercises can be held back on stations or appropriate outdoor locations.
“Preparing for all possible incidents is invaluable in keeping the communities of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight safe.”
Firefighters attended the first scenario to find workers walking and crawling towards them after a container of unidentified white powder was spilt causing burning sensations to people’s eyes, nose and mouth.
Those affected also started coughing and had problems breathing. The second scenario saw casualties writhing on the floor after supposedly being splashed by a falling tub of hydrochloric acid and suffering severe burns.
The final exercise featured a chlorine gas terror attack at a leisure centre while an exercise class was taking place. Four casualties had escaped and were choking and vomiting while suffering pain in their eyes. One had collapsed and was struggling to breathe.
The sessions each lasted about 15 minutes and involved a detailed debrief afterwards. Fire crews had to cut away the casualties’ clothes, dab the chemicals from their skin with paper towels and treated their ‘injuries’ with the Immediate Emergency Care (IEC) packs.
Crews worked with partner agencies such as the Hampshire Constabulary and South Central Ambulance Service in the exercise. Actors, breathing apparatus, imitation chemicals and a drill dummy were used as firefighters provided an initial response and used disrobe packs which included orange outfits for the casualty.
This signified they had only received the initial response and were still not allowed to leave the site. In a real life scenario specialist response would by then have arrived to check those in orange.
If they were safe they would be put into green outfits and allowed to leave the cordoned area. Watch Manager Antony Hurle said: “These exercises have been invaluable for our fire crews and fellow emergency responders in preparing for such events.
“We delivered short exercises to simulate the first 15 minutes of an incident before the arrival of specialist response.
“These small exercises have enabled responders to take part in realistic training while they remain available for real emergencies.
“Working with partner agencies during these exercises has enabled good training in JESIP. All those who took part have fed back positively on the effectiveness of the scenarios.”