Firefighters on Merseyside are teaming up with local paramedics to better prepare for major incidents in their region.
In addition to delivering training to Hazardous Area Response Teams (HART) from across the country, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service are developing close links with their local team - sharing both their facilities and training exercises.
The HART teams are specially recruited and trained personnel who work within the inner cordon at major incidents to triage and treat casualties. The project to train and equip ambulance service personnel, funded by the Department of Health, was initiated in 2005 and is still in the process of being rolled out across 12 locations in Ambulance Trusts in England.
Construction work is now underway to upgrade the facilities at one of Merseyside's fire stations so that when the second North West HART team goes live early this year, they will be based at the station alongside firefighters.
Teaming up at the fire station
Croxteth Community Fire Station, where MF&RS' Search and Rescue Team (SRT) are based, is currently being renovated to accommodate the HART team. Station Manager Paul Hitchen said: "The facilities at Croxteth Fire Station are being upgraded to facilitate the two teams working together. For the teams it's the total integration - when on shift they will be sharing all of the same facilities and training regularly together so in terms of response, they will respond more closely and effectively."
The North West region's second HART team will work closely with firefighters from Merseyside to carry out training, both before and after they become operational. As well as undertaking Breathing Apparatus (BA) training at the service's Training and Development Academy (T&DA), the paramedics will carry out development and continuation training with the SRT at offsite locations. They will also complete USAR familiarisation training at the Fire Service College and are set to be thrown in at the deep end as they carry out Inland Water Operative training with MF&RS.
The service's Water Skills Team will deliver the Inland Water Operative course in North Wales to both HART teams from the North West and a team from West Midlands. The training, which includes personal safety techniques, movement in and around moving water, operating in boats and self rescue techniques, enables paramedics to deliver definitive clinical care at flooding incidents.
Station Manager Paul Hitchen of MF&RS said: "The training allows the paramedics to safely work alongside us at water rescues and major flooding incidents."
Working alongside MF&RS has provided local HART teams with ample opportunities to carry out realistic training, both at the T&DA and at offsite locations. A series of live tactical exercises have been organised by MF&RS that HART teams have been able to take part in to develop their skills.
The North West Ambulance Service took part in an exercise with MF&RS at the Mersey Tunnels which simulated a major RTC with numerous entrapments, a hazardous materials incident and structural collapse. The exercise was part of the Fire and Rescue Service's National Resilience Programme and was one of three simultaneous exercises taking place around the country to test the emergency service response under significant levels of pressure. As well as the crash in the Mersey Tunnels, the exercises involved a simulated train crash in Warwickshire and an explosion causing a building collapse in Gloucestershire.
Paramedics also joined firefighters from MF&RS at a high-profile training exercise on the River Mersey, which simulated a fire onboard one of the world-famous Mersey Ferries. During the dramatic exercise, more than a dozen people were pulled to safety on a slide raft and another five were pulled from the ferry by an RAF Sea King helicopter. The casualties were then taken to the dry land where they were treated by members of the HART team.
Members of the North West HART team have also traveled all the way to Texas with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service's USAR team to take part in a 48-hour exercise. The world-renowned Disaster City, created by Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), is a 52-acre mock community featuring full-scale collapsed structures designed to simulate various types of structural collapse, disaster and wreckage.
The HART teams were involved in all aspects of the exercise which included; a search operation, confined space rescue, mass casualties, triage, and clinical intervention/stabilisation.
Station Manager Paul Hitchen said: "It was extremely beneficial for both the MFRS USAR team and the HART team to participate in the full scale exercise with the Task Force because it assists us in embedding our procedures."
As well as teams from the North West joining MF&RS tactical exercises and training, representatives from the West Midlands HART took part in water rescue training on the Menai Strait in 2010, to gain a better understanding of how to assist fire and rescue services during major flooding incidents.
The four-day national training event was organised and delivered by MF&RS to give fire crews from different services the opportunity to share best practice so they can work together more effectively during flooding emergencies. As well as practicing water rescue skills on personal watercrafts and powerboats, they carried out unique training alongside the rescue helicopter from RAF Valley, transferring 'casualties' from the water into the helicopter.
Training national HART teams in Merseyside
In addition to developing close partnerships with local HART teams, MF&RS deliver courses for ambulance service personnel across the UK from the Service's T&DA, providing the skills for paramedics to work within the hot zone of major hazardous incidents.
Traditionally the Ambulance Service operated within the 'cold zone' areas of an incident where contamination was not present and it was deemed a safe working environment. However it was recognised that the delays in providing immediate treatment could result in unnecessary loss of life so the HART project was set up to train and equip ambulance staff to work within the inner cordon and assist firefighters in triaging and caring for casualties.
MF&RS became one of the first Fire and Rescue Services to offer HART training in 2008 and since then have delivered courses to over 180 paramedics. Earlier this year, the Service also began delivering refresher training for the original HART teams, with over 100 paramedics returning to the T&DA since February 2010. The refresher training gives the teams an opportunity to confirm their competencies and also keeps the link established with MF&RS as they develop into their role.
An important part of the two-week course is familiarisation with the personal protective equipment (PPE) that needs to be worn to enter the hot zone, including Breathing Apparatus (BA), gas tight suits and powered respiratory protection suits. This enables ambulance service personnel to work in irrespirable and poisonous atmospheres alongside firefighters.
James Murphy, Programme Manager of Business Education and Safety at MF&RS, said: "The paramedics are taught basic BA procedures, entry control and traversing guidelines and branch lines in BA and gas tight suits. The aim of the course is to provide training in the use of BA and PPE that would allow them to go within the inner cordon. Once in the inner cordon, their sole purpose is triage and treatment of casualties.
"The situations they will then be able to enter include chemical incidents, building collapses or large scale motorway or rail accidents. It means we can have greater integration with the ambulance service at all incidents as they would now be able to enter the inner cordon and be able to advise us of any casualty priorities."
The course combines classroom-based theory with a range of practical activities that aim to re-create different scenarios where the paramedics may need to put their training into practice, including incidents on ships, tunnels, collapsed buildings or large fires. They are also taught essential procedures during the course, including command and control and decontamination. It is normally the paramedics' first experience of using BA and other fire service equipment and the activities are designed to test their new skills in a pressured environment.
James said: "We are getting the paramedics to think beyond their standard procedures. One of the most important things that we want them to do is actually think when they are put into these different scenarios. It is a lot to take in when they have the BA apparatus on and are taken out of their comfort zone in these kinds of scenarios but they need to be thinking of their own and the casualties' safety."
At the end of the course, a realistic training scenario is created to test the skills that the paramedics have acquired. James said: "We set up the scenario of a collapsed building and we give the HART team little information initially and they have to take everything that they have been taught and bring it all together.
"It is important to remember that they are not paramedics who are trying to be firefighters, they are getting taught BA and PPE skills so that multi-agencies can work together more effectively during incidents."
Date posted: 13.01.11