Firefighters in Northumberland have tackled a number of wildfires this summer after the enduring heat wave made the countryside dangerously flammable.
While the hot, dry weather was good news for sun seekers, these conditions fuelled a spate of wildfires both within the county and nationally, including the massive moorland wildfires in Greater Manchester and Lancashire that hit the national headlines.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) is a lead authority on tackling wildfires with a specialised and experienced team who train regularly and work and train closely with other emergency services to ensure they are testing and improving their capabilities and are always prepared.
As part of this training Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) have recently taken part in a multi-agency, cross-border wildfire exercise, training our firefighters in how to tackle and manage remote wildfires.
Named ‘Exercise Pennine Way’, the training exercise involved a fictional wildfire moving along the Pennine Way / border ridge. The movement of the fire was simulated by the use of flags to mark the fire’s spread on the ground and was overseen by wildfire tactical teams from all agencies.
The exercise was created, set up and managed through a multi-agency initiative and alongside Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, also involved Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, College Valley Estates, Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team, North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team and Border Search and Rescue Team.
Exercise Pennine Way was set up in a remote and challenging area with a strong requirement for effective cross-border and multi-agency work. The exercise was designed to test multi-agency work between the fire services and partner agencies, communications between control rooms, incident support on the ground and operational crews and partner agencies along with map reading and navigational skills.
Following this exercise, the partner agencies will now produce a report to evaluate the exercise and include recommendations for further improving response to wildfires in remote areas.
Paul Hedley, Chief Fire Officer at Northumberland Fire and Rescue said: “Exercises such as these are imperative to continually train our personnel and maintain our skills in these types of incidents.
“Working in remote areas, such as these, allows us to prepare our personnel to work in difficult conditions, ensuring we are prepared for a full range of potential situations, both in dealing with and tackling wildfires and also working with our partner agencies.
“It is also important that we remain trained for all types of potential wildfire incidents, especially during the warm weather that we’ve recently had when ground becomes increasingly dry and the risk of wildfires starting and their likelihood to quickly spread and become out of control is elevated.”
Councillor John Riddle, cabinet member with responsibility for Northumberland Fire and Rescue said: “Northumberland Fire and Rescue service is a lead authority on tackling wildfires and these training exercises allow us to maintain and improve upon our existing knowledge while working with partners to share knowledge and experience, working to continually keep Northumberland safe.”
Iain Bushell, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s Deputy Chief Officer said: “This type of cross-border training exercise is excellent for developing our partnership working.
“This summer we faced, and dealt with, a number of large wildfires across Scotland and it is always good to share knowledge and experience.
“It is vitally important that the SFRS and our partners can work together to effectively respond and deal with an incident on either side of the border to protect the public.”
He continued: “We have seen in recent months just how large these fires can become - many rural and remote communities are hugely impacted by these incidents, which can cause significant environmental and economic damage.
“We have to replicate realistic joint training to confirm our knowledge and ability for dealing with the unique challenges and hazards that this kind of fire can present, and ensure our response is the best it can possibly be to protect communities and property.
“This was a very positive exercise and I look forward to working with our partners again in future.”
Mountain Rescue wildfire lead for Northumberland, Andrew Miller said, "Mountain Rescue volunteers are highly trained and experienced in responding to incidents in remote and challenging situations. Whatever the emergency, we are here to work with the police, ambulance and fire & rescue. This summer across the country Mountain Rescue volunteers assisted Fire & Rescue Services fighting wildfires".
"Exercise Pennine Way provided a great opportunity to test our response locally to this kind of incident. Working together with professional firefighters from both sides of the border, the Mountain Rescue teams provided specialist communications and logistical support."
Chris Chapman, Training Officer at Border Search and Rescue Unit said: “The exercise has provided an ideal opportunity in coordinating with and assisting our near neighbour agencies, testing our joint response to a realistic scenario in the Cheviot Hills.
“It has enhanced our joint agency communication, logistics, and team working, whilst we were all learning more about each agencies' capabilities and resources available in the event of a large cross-border incident.
“We enjoyed the day and the craic!”
Stephen Crees, Estate Manager at College Valley Estates said: "It is a privilege and a pleasure for College Valley Estates to host this important wildfire exercise. It has been a great experience for us to work together with so many partner agencies on both sides of the English-Scottish border.
“The planning of this exercise has provided lots of learning opportunities for us and will help us all improve our response to wildfires in the future."