Kent’s emergency services have been involved in a collective response, resources and practice exercise in case of future emergencies.
The ‘Night Train Exercise’ involved Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS), South East Coast Ambulance Service’s Hazardous Area Response Team (SECAmb’s HART), the British Red Cross and the Rapid Relief Team (RRT).
KFRS Group Manager Russ Jordan, who was incident commander said: “This type of exercise is crucial as, fortunately, incidents of this scale are rare, so to be able to test our response, resources and practice is vital to understanding that we’re prepared should it ever happen.”
KFRS sent eight fire engines and 40 firefighters, the service’s technical rescue team and a command support unit to the scene.
The scenario involved a four carriage train packed with commuters on one of the county’s main lines, which had collided with a car, injuring the driver and an infant passenger. There were six ‘mock’ casualties, some trapped under the train and over 30 ‘walking wounded’ who were played by volunteers from KFRS, British Red Cross and East Kent Railway Trust (EKRT).
The exercise was hosted by the EKRT and staged on the old Kent Colliery Line. The derailment deliberately replicated the conditions that blue light emergency crews might face during an incident of this type.
SECAmb paramedic and acting HART Operation Manager in Ashford, Steve Dowdall said: "Joint exercises such as this are extremely worthwhile and provide our crews with the opportunity to train and learn alongside our emergency service colleagues in an environment which is as close to the real thing as possible. Thankfully multi-casualty incidents such as this are, as a percentage of our total work, very rare, so training such as this is vital. We always take forward any learning points to ensure our patients benefit from the highest possible standards of care."
The emergency services worked for three hours helping to release and treat the casualties using the latest hydraulic cutting equipment such as:
• Cutters that can cut through steel, spreaders that can force open vehicle doors that can’t be opened after a crash, powerful hydraulic rams that are used to create space and are able to lift a steering column
• Stabilisation equipment including stab jacks, which provide a stable working environment if a vehicle is trapped on its side or on a slope and adjustable struts that can quickly stabilise a vehicle very securely including on slippery, uneven ground
• Forcible entry tools that can pound, puncture, pry, twist and cut all types of barriers encountered by firefighters
• Airbags that can lift a car or lorry to rescue someone trapped underneath
• Access platforms
• Breathing apparatus
The British Red Cross supported with the initial response at the scene, providing five ambulance crews, who assessed the injured and then supported with treatment. The emergency response volunteers were also on scene supporting others who had been impacted by the derailment, but who didn’t require immediate treatment.
British Red Cross volunteers are specifically trained for such emergencies and were able to provide practical and emotional assistance, ranging from the provision of blankets and clothes, through to supporting those who need to talk through and process what they have seen.
Jon Gater, British Red Cross Training Manager and exercise director added: “Working alongside our partners in scenarios like this is really valuable. By ensuring a common understanding of the nature of our specialisms and skills we are well prepared should the worst happen. We also enjoy the opportunity to practice our processes and response in peace time, and being able to practically do so on occasions like tonight brings a lot of value to the team.”
RRT Regional Team Leader, Murray Walton said: “Working with the emergency services during these training exercises is a key part of our learning and understanding. It provides us with an insight so we can respond appropriately during an emergency with the right equipment and support. RRT are grateful for the opportunity to assist in this excellent training exercise.”
KFRS Group Manager Russ Jordan said: "This event was an excellent example of how we work together as a team to ensure the best possible outcome. It was extremely important and incredibly useful to everyone involved. It’s very reassuring to know that should there be an incident of this scale, the emergency services of Kent are prepared and well practiced. Our post incident debrief enables us to exchange some really valuable learning outcomes.
“We are very grateful to EKRT for supporting this exercise on such a large scale and thanks must also go to our volunteers who acted as ‘mock’ casualties."
EKRT General Manager, Matthew Plews ended: “We are delighted to have been able to host our local emergency services for this exercise. We think it's vitally important for our emergency services teams to be able to experience a scenario like this locally. The East Kent Railway is perfectly positioned for these types of exercises and is also able to offer TV, film work and much more. We are also open most Sunday's for passenger train rides.”