For many firefighters, emergency services, local authorities and members of the public in Lancashire, December 2015 will be always remembered for the terrible storms that hit parts of the county.
In total, three storms hit Lancashire in December; Desmond, Eva and Frank and they all brought with them their own unique challenges for the staff of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service. While the effects of Storm Eva were undoubtedly more severe in Lancashire than Storm Desmond, the learning outcomes from Desmond made us better prepared for when Eva came on Boxing Day.
It was the afternoon of Saturday December 5 when Storm Desmond blew in to Lancashire from the Irish Sea and Cumbria. At this point, firefighters from across the northern area of Lancashire had already attended several incidents in Cumbria. By late afternoon, roads around Lancaster were becoming inaccessible and we had already rescued dozens of people who were trapped in their cars and two fire engines had also got stuck in flood water.
As the day turned into the evening, the rain was unrelenting and the rivers in Lancaster and the surrounding areas were getting higher and higher. The main concern for us that evening was an electricity substation next to the River Lune in the centre of Lancaster, which was beginning to flood. When firefighters arrived at the scene, the water was halfway up their boots and despite several hours of tireless work the water could not be pumped away quickly enough and eventually the substation was submerged in water causing a power cut to more than 60,000 properties.
Station Manager Michael Spencer says: “There was a sinking feeling that hit every firefighter who had worked so hard at the substation, but there was nothing we could have done to stop it unfortunately. Within a few hours the water level had almost doubled and we just had nowhere to pump water.”
Later that evening, crews from Preston Fire Station that had attended several incidents in and around Morecambe and Lancaster were at Lancaster Fire Station when it became obvious that the station was going to flood. The Watch Manager in charge, Tom Cookson, made a quick decision to move all the valuable equipment, which was on the floor to a higher location and then for his crews to evacuate the station before they became trapped themselves.
Firefighters from across Lancashire for 24 hours attended incident after incident despite being tired and wet. These incidents ranged from fires to chemical incidents, road traffic collisions and, of course, rescuing people who were trapped in flood water.
To highlight this outstanding response, the corporate communications department at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service produced a short film documenting the stories above and many more, including firefighters rescuing a pregnant woman whose waters had broken from a car trapped in flood water and how firefighters based at Forton Service Station on the M6 became the focal point for people wanting information on the best way to get home.
The film called ‘Dealing with Desmond’ is around 20 minutes long and although it is a lengthy piece, since its release it has been viewed around 1,000 times and has been well received by the public who have enjoyed getting an insight into the work of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service. The film could have easily been twice as long due to the many more examples of staff going above and beyond to assist members of the public during that difficult time.