The most challenging multi-agency exercise ever organised by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has been declared a resounding success.
Exercise Winter Palace was based on the scenario of a collapsed, three-storey accommodation block. The initial call came through to West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s (WYFRS) mobilising and communication centre at 16:00 hrs on Monday, 19 December, and emergency crews worked solidly on the site at Kirklees College, Huddersfield, for three days and two nights to rescue trapped casualties.
The exercise involved West Yorkshire firefighters and urban search and rescue team (USAR) as well as USAR teams from London Fire Brigade, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Tyne & Wear. Hazardous area response teams (HART) from Yorkshire Ambulance Service, North West Ambulance Service and the North East Ambulance Service also took part in the exercise, as well as West Yorkshire Police. Search and rescue dogs also attended from around the country.
It has taken six months for WYFRS and partners to construct a complex series of confined spaces and narrow passages in the basement of Kirklees College to recreate a collapsed accommodation block. Crews worked in pitch black, in extremely cramped spaces as small as 40cm high. Volunteers acted as trapped casualties.
West Yorkshire Deputy Chief Fire Officer Steve Beckley said:
This exercise was designed not only to test the national USAR capability in a realistic rescue scenario, but also to test the resilience of the fire and rescue service to operate over a prolonged period of time.
I am pleased to report that the exercise was a fantastic success without exception. It is clear that the exercise was a real test of our capability and all those involved appear to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. One of the most satisfying elements of the exercise was to see all the USAR teams working so well alongside regular firefighters and ambulance HART teams deep inside the collapsed structure, using complementary skills and experience to achieve a common objective.
The people of West Yorkshire, and indeed the rest of the country, should certainly be reassured that if and when we are called upon to respond to such a disaster we will not be found wanting.