Previous Deployments

This page lists the deployments and updates from the Cheshire Search & Rescue Team (SART)

List of deployments:

Cheshire help with rescue efforts in Japan - 2011

The Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service International Search and Rescue (ISAR) Dog Team has flown out to Japan to help with the search efforts.

Cheshire's search dog Bryn and handler Steve Buckley are part of a 63-strong UK International Search and Rescue Team who have flown to Japan to help in the aftermath of the major earthquake and tsunami.

Although search dog Bryn and Firefighter Steve Buckley, a firefighter based at Knutsford, were not required as part of the Cheshire team which went over to New Zealand following the recent earthquake. This time they have joined firefighters from Kent, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Mid and West Wales and the West Midlands for this latest rescue mission.

The UK team flew out on Saturday 12th March 2011 and landed at a military base in the north of Japan.

The UK team have joined up with Amercian rescue workers and have been tasked with supporting a search and rescue effort in the coastal town of Ofunato.

See updates from the Cheshire ISAR Dog team in Japan

Cheshire help with rescue efforts in New Zealand - 2011

The Cheshire Fire and Rescue Services UK International Search and Rescue (ISAR) team flew out to New Zealand on 23rd February 2011 for a 15-day operation in Christchurch.  

See updates from the Cheshire ISAR team in New Zealand  

The seven-strong Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service ISAR team was joined by teams from West Midlands, Essex, West Sussex, Hampshire, Grampian, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and South Wales. They were supported by a medical team of five doctors and nurses.

The members of the Cheshire team were:

  • Mark Coleman, based at CFRS Headquarters in Winsford. Mark is the Operational Commander in charge of the UK contingency

  • Station Manager Stuart Devereux, based at CFRS HQ, CFRS Team Leader

  • Firefighter Andy Hurst from Winsford Fire Station

  • Crew Manager Gareth Scott, Chester Fire Station

  • Watch Manager Mark Bushell, Runcorn Fire Station

  • Crew Manager Daryl Codling, Knutsford Fire Station

  • Watch Manager Paul Bickerton, CFRS HQ

Update from Iraq 1991

Operation safe Haven, a report by John Pugh.

As part of the 1991 relief effort in Northern Iraq, Operation safe Haven, the British Government deployed a multi-disciplined team of personnel and equipment to provide humanitarian assistance to the large Kurdish population fleeing an oppressive Iraqi regime.

Part of that team was made up of Fire Service personnel. Cheshire Fire Brigade where one of a number of brigades able to contribute personnel to the team. The Cheshire contingent consisted of Len Jukes, John Pugh, Ian Scullion and John Goodrum.

The team was deployed for a period of five weeks. During this time the team were involved in a wide range of activities designed to provide relief and humanitarian assistance to the Kurdish population.

The team's activities included:

  • Establishing feeding stations to distribute food and also blankets.

  • The re-building of a village school and also a First Aid post.

  • Re-establishing water and electrical supplies.

  • The building of a team base HQ with much needed rest facilities.

  • Working with Field Hospital Surgeons treating land mine casualties.

But perhaps the most significant achievement was the winning of the hearts and minds of the Kurdish people. Establishing an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect enabled the team to assist the Kurds more and hopefully, help improve their desperate plight.

Macedonia - Humanitarian relief work May 1999

UKFSSART deployed teams to Skopje Airport during the troubled times in Macedonia. Their role was to assist the International relief effort. The British team were primarily based at the airport, the Cheshire team consisted of John Pugh and Chris Spencer. Much of the work involved unloading planes laden with humanitarian aid ( tents, clothing, food, medicines and vehicles ) destined for Kosovo. It was a very demanding task, both physically and mentally. The British team were able to reduce the unloading and turnaround times of many different types of aircraft thus ensuring the maximum use of the airport for humanitarian aid.

On the rare occasions when there were was no unloading work to be done the team assisted at a nearby refugee campsite, carrying out various tasks including the installation of a water supply system.

Turkish Earthquake - August 17th 1999

On August 17 at 3:02 a.m. local time, an earthquake measuring 7.81 on the Richter scale struck the North Western region of Turkey. The epicentre was close to Izmit, an industrial city of close to one million inhabitants. Izmit is approximately 50 miles east-southeast of Istanbul, Turkey's largest city. Aftershocks were felt following the initial temblor with some registering more than 5.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquake destroyed thousands of buildings and damaged many thousands more.

The Cheshire SART along with South Wales, West Midlands, Leicestershire, and Mid & West Wales were mobilised that same day. The Cheshire team consisted of Kevin Kelly, John Pugh, Keith Roughley, Chris Spencer and Phillip Blakemore.

Once fully assembled the team departed for Gatwick Airport by road vehicle to rendezvous with a specially charted Turkish airliner that would take them and the other SART teams on to Istanbul.

The Fire Service SART personnel landed at Istanbul within 24 hours of the earthquake occurring. They joining forces with the International Rescue Corps volunteers and deployed to Golyaka, Duzce and Sakarya. From the airport the teams loaded their equipment onto a fleet of lorries and buses and began the journey East to the worst affected area.

After a journey through the devastated region the International Rescue Corps were deployed to the city of Duzce, were they successfully rescued one live casualty. The UKFSSART teams were first deployed to the small village of Golyaka where it was hoped that live casualties might be found. Unfortunately after completing searches on all collapsed buildings in the village over two days, no live casualties were located.

The UKFSSART team where then relocated to Sakarya, a large city located East of Izmit. The teams worked in high temperatures day and night for four days tunnelling into the many collapsed buildings to search for any live casualties and also recover the dead. On one such search the Cheshire team, working alongside a team of Turkish miners, succeeded in rescuing one young man who had been trapped in the ruins of his flat for four days.

Unfortunately, after six days the rescue phase was closed down due to the risk of disease arising from the number of bodies still trapped in the debris.

Having lived in amongst the homeless Turkish people struggling to come to terms with their personal loss the teams returned to the U.K. with a great deal of respect for the courage and fortitude of the Turkish people as they faced the massive rebuilding effort.

Mozambique 2000 - A personal account of his experiences in Mozambique from Gary Williams

We all saw the devastating effect of the flood, the traumatic pictures of the locals that had survived but lost a family member, and the loss of everything they needed to survive in the jungle. The South African Helicopter teams carried out dramatic and heroic rescues 24 hours a day that left them totally exhausted with fatigue and stress, but they carried on regardless. The two rescues that particularly stick in my mind are those of the woman who had given birth in a tree and the winch man grabbing two little boys from the river holding one in each hand.

Cheshire Search and Rescue Team (SART) were not on immediate callout but were waiting for a possible deployment to the effected area. As the days went by the chances of being deployed seemed remote. However, at 15:00 hrs on 14/3/00, some 2 weeks from the start of the disaster, I was informed by my Field Commander, Kevin Kelly that myself, John Pugh and Martin Walsh would be deployed to Mozambique within the next 24 hours from RAF Manston in Kent to Maputo, Mozambique in a Russian Antonov aircraft capable of carrying an enormous amount of cargo.

This gave us 24 hours to organise the operational equipment we would need to take and also our personal kit including any last minute supplies. We visited a Professor of Tropical Medicine who gave us personal medical advice regarding the environment to which we were being deployed. After numerous interviews by the local press and regional TV we departed for RAF Manston where we were met by Her Majesty's Inspector (HMI) Ted Pearn and members from the Department for International Development (DFID), who were in charge of the deployment.

Shortly after arrival at Manston we attended a briefing on the present situation in Mozambique and were informed that we would be carrying out water rescue operations using boats provided by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI). The RNLI team consisted of a crew of 12 including an inspector, a boat handling instructor, a boat mechanic and lifeboat men from all over the UK.

The following morning, HMI Ted Pearn and DFID gave use a briefing on personal safety due to the nature of the area where we were being deployed. Such areas of personal safety included anti-personnel mines, snakes, crocodiles, signs and symptoms of various diseases, local cultures and the obvious danger of the nature of the task in hand. We were briefed on land mines as there was a mine clearing campaign being carried out and all mine fields were marked on our maps. However, the flooding made it difficult to know if you were in danger from a submerged mine field or not. Many mines had been moved by the floodwater and were being found a long distance away from the known mine fields.

At 14:00 hours that day, we took off for Maputo with the aircraft packed to its total capacity with vital rescue equipment and supplies. We flew via Athens, Jeda, and Mombassa for refuelling, and arrived at Maputo some 24 hours later. Our first impressions on arrival were the extreme temperature. We unloaded the aircraft immediately after landing, which took 3 hours.

The following day the SARTs from Lancashire, South Wales and Mid & West Wales moved from Maputo to Biera in the north of the country in a Belgium Hercules so that operations could be carried out on the river Buzi. Cheshire's SART and 2 RNLI members stayed in Maputo to arrange for all the equipment to be transported to Biera some 1000 km from Maputo taking two hours flying time. The next day Cheshire's SART and the 2 RNLI moved to Biera to join the rest of the teams.

Later that evening myself and 3 other SART members, 4 RNLI and 2 doctors were briefed. Our task was to take the doctors to Goonda to assess health and medical needs, a small village, which was 90 km of unchartered waters, up the river Buzi almost into Zimbabwe. It was estimated that this would take us 48 hours. The reason for finding this village was that the larger villages were already receiving aid but unfortunately the smaller areas were not getting any supplies as the flooding water made it difficult to know their locations. Therefore, another of our tasks was to plot the locations, using a Global Positioning System (GPS), of smaller villages along the river Buzi to enable the aeroplanes to drop essential aid to them.

That morning we left Biera across the Indian Ocean to reach the river Buzi's delta. We stopped in Buzi to pick up our river guide, who unfortunately managed to get us all lost on more than one occasion! The heat was almost unbearable and caused the engines on the boats to overheat on many occasions, to prevent this happening we eventually had to remove the thermostats from the engines.

We stopped in Mannague, a small village, to assess health problems and then moved on to Chindu with our final stop for that day being Estakinia, plotting all villages using the GPS en route. We stopped in Estakinia to rendezvous with the helicopter for water and fuel supplies, a smoke flare was set off to identify our location to the helicopter. The helicopter located our position and left after resupply. The flare used was a dual flare and was still usable. For safety reasons it was decided to ignite it. However, the intense heat and petrol vapour present in the atmosphere ignited setting a boat on fire, even though the flare was set off some distance from the boats. A team member's legs caught fire and he jumped into the river to extinguish the flames where only a few minutes before we had seen crocodiles swimming. At the time all four boats were tethered together and although we tried to extinguish the fire, we were unable to do so and therefore to save the other boats we cut free the offending boat and push it down river. The boat was loaded with two team member's equipment, one doctor's equipment, food, water and other essential items. We then radioed for the helicopter to return to pick up the casualty who had burns to his legs. After this event, we walked for one hour through the jungle to a place where it would be safe to spend the night, away from the wildlife, which populates the area.

We set off the following morning for our destination Goonda, arriving at 1400 hours. We made an assessment of the villages needs and plotted its location on the GPS. We then headed down river at full speed to try to return to Biera before dark However, this was not possible and we spent the night in Buzi sleeping in our boats. At first light the following day we set off for Biera, which was a relatively uneventful journey, expect for a couple of occasions when the boats hit sandbanks. Crocodiles and snakes were plentiful in the river so volunteers to climb into the water to release the boats were not forthcoming! We safely arrived in Biera three hours later to be greeted by DFID, other SART members and ITN reporters.

This was the first time that boats had been that far up the river in unchartered waters and navigation was very difficult. The journey was very demanding and exhausting taking me 7 days to fully recover from fatigue and the effects of the intense heat.

Other team members carried out similar operations up the river Buzi after our return. Those team members at base trained local people in fire fighting techniques using their limited equipment, whilst others trained the local fire brigade to use the boats and engines in the unfortunate event of another such disaster in the future. All boats and engines taken to Mozambique were donated to the country.

A few days before returning to the UK, a helicopter took myself and 2 other SART members to assess the damage some distance away from the river Buzi. From the air it looked like an atomic bomb had gone off. Large areas of the jungle were flattened, large trees had been uprooted and washed downstream and there were no signs of any of the original villages, locals or wildlife. The horrific floods had destroyed all of these.

Indian Earthquake - A personal account of his experiences in India from Phillip Blakemore.

On the 26th January 2001 a powerful earthquake hit the North Western Indian state of Gujarat at 08:50 Hrs (local time) it measured at its peak a massive 7.9 on the Richter scale and tremors where felt in neighbouring states, Delhi and over the border into Pakistan. The epicentre of the quake was located about 50Km North East of the city Bhuj. The scale of the devastation and the damage done by the quake was colossal. The loss of life ran into tens of thousands of people dead!! The number of people made homeless was many times that.

The Cheshire team where mobilized as part of the British governments response to the appeal for assistance from the Indian government. The Cheshire team was one of five Brigade teams that were asked to respond, the others being, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Leicestershire, and Lincolnshire, these five teams made up the UKFSSART contingent. They were also joined by two other voluntary civilian organisations, International Rescue Corps (IRC) and Response and Preparedness in Disasters (R.A.P.I.D.). These three teams totalled 69 rescue personnel in all, the largest ever single deployment of rescue personnel to any natural disaster by the British Government. The three independent teams all agreed to work as one combined unit led by DCO Mike Thomas of Lincolnshire FB to ensure that the rescue effort could be maximized.

The Cheshire team (consisting of Kevin Kelly, Martin Walsh, John Pugh, Steve Tucker, Steve Buckley, Andy Wainwright, Paul Jackson, myself and Ian West) where mobilized at 17:00 hrs (GMT) and where in attendance with equipment fully loaded at Cheshire BHQ in Winsford at 19:00 hrs. The call was received from London at 19:30 hrs to report to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. All the British teams were in attendance at Brize Norton by midnight and approx 08:00 hrs on Saturday morning, after some diplomatic wrangling, took off for India aboard an RAF Tri-Star.

After arrival at Ahmamabad airport (the airport at Buhj was too damaged to risk landing there) we unloaded all the equipment and loaded it onto a fleet of buses and lorries provided by the Gujarat people. After a long, cold twelve journey through the night we arrived in the city of Buhj.

The sight that awaited us was one of near total devastation; the city of Buhj is an ancient city with an old town centre with miles of narrow streets and passages. Huge areas of the city had suffered massive damage to the buildings and structures whilst others had collapsed completely leaving nothing but huge piles of rubble for as far as you could see. The rescue operations began within minutes of arrival in the city, a live casualty was located by UK team personnel and once located the rescue was handed over to the Indian Army. Once base camp was set up on a cricket pitch close to the city's central governments offices the rescue operations continued.

Although I had already experienced the damage and devastation that an earthquake causes whilst being deployed to Turkey in 1999, the scale of the disaster in India staggered me. It was, once again, an experience I will never forget and I will always be in awe of the people of Gujarat for the way in which they set about the extreme and difficult task of coping with the tremendous devastation they faced. Everyone we encountered displayed unimaginable courage and civility in the most difficult of circumstances, it was a truly humbling experience and I will always have a high regard for the people I met in Gujarat and the city of Bhuj.

The rescue operation had over just a few days become a massive international response and we ended up sharing our cricket pitch with rescue teams from Sweden, Germany, Japan, Rumania, France, Israel and Turkey!! The British rescuers successfully released five persons from collapsed buildings and located many missing persons, unfortunately deceased. The positive location of their missing loved ones seemed to give the surviving relatives at least some comfort.

After approximately a week the decision was taken that the rescue operation was drawing to a close and that, due to the conditions and length of time trapped, it was unlikely that we would be able to discover any further live casualties. Regretfully we returned to Ahmamabad and, after a quick clean up at a hotel, flew on a chartered airliner via Bahrain to Manchester airport. The support that all of the team members received was of great importance to us, support from our family's, Cheshire Fire Service and our own work colleagues was of great value and made it a far more bearable experience.

Sweden - Exercise Triplex 2000 (24th to 29th May), a report by Kevin Kelly.

The five nations of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom organise an annual exercise to practice and develop the co-operation between the countries and improve international humanitarian response and team building.

In 2000 the exercise was organised by the Swedish Rescue Services Agency, the four objectives of the exercise were:

  • Practice joint search and rescue operations.

  • Practice International Humanitarian Partnership support for UNDAC (United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination Team) missions.

  • Develop greater awareness of CIMIC (Civilian - Military Co-operation) in humanitarian operations.

  • Provide a civilian planned and run humanitarian exercise.

The scenario for the exercise was based on a serious earthquake having occurred followed by severe aftershocks. This creates heavy casualties and damage to large numbers of buildings. The effect on the area is aggravated further by the damage to the infrastructure of the country and a refugee problem arising from a low level but tense confrontation with a neighbouring country over a border dispute.

The five nations involved in the exercise, supported by the agencies of the United Nations provided Search & Rescue Teams and support groups as a response to the scenario. As part of the UK contribution a team of ten UK Fire Service personnel drawn from the UK Fire Service Search & Rescue Team arrived at Gothenburg airport in Sweden on Wednesday 24th May.

Search & Rescue Teams from Sweden, Denmark, UK and Finland along with search dog teams from Norway were tasked to two regions in Sweden with operations commencing at 23:00 Hrs on the 24th. The teams exercised jointly and individually over the next four days and nights. The locations and scenarios for the individual incidents were different on each occasion and all teams were exercised on at least eleven different sites. During each exercise assessors from UNDAC and the Swedish Rescue Services Agency were present to observe the teams and to give an end of exercise briefing to the teams on their performance.

Exercise Triplex 2000 was regarded as very successful, this was due to the realistic and enthusiastic manner in which every aspect of the exercise was carried out.

Finland - Wintex Exercise 11th to 14th February 1999, a report by martin Walsh.

On Sunday 7th February 1999 a British Fire Service Search & Rescue Team was mobilised to Kuopio, Finland on a joint on a joint exercise with a Danish Search & Rescue Team. The Cheshire SART personnel involved in the exercise were Martin Walsh and Chris Spencer. The British team drove in a convoy of three Landrover Discovery's, supplied by DFID, from Sutton in Cambridgeshire through France, Holland, Belgium and Germany arriving at Zealand Barracks in Denmark. The UK and Danish teams involved in the exercise were led by The Danish Emergency Management Agency (DEMA). The joint team then travelled to Stockholm where an overnight ferry took them to Helsinki. A further 160 miles were driven in convoy and the teams finally arrived at Kuopio on the 11th February.

The following day as part of the exercise scenario the joint DEMA/UKFSSART team was tasked to help in a railway accident located approximately 100 Km North of Kuopio. The incident was in the rural area of Mikkeli and involved a collision between a passenger train and a train carrying hazardous materials.

The teams working in extremely cold conditions carried out a controlled search of the wreckage successfully locating a number of live casualties. These were released from the wreckage using a wide variety of rescue techniques and the teams administered first aid to the 'casualties'. The exercise commenced at 14:00 Hrs and was completed at approximately 02:30 Hrs the next day. The physically demanding work was carried out in temperatures ranging from 15 to 20 degrees.

The following day the teams were debriefed and given further training in cold weather activities and survival.

The exercise was considered a success by all that took part in, and organised it and gave the teams, the UKFSSART in particular, some important experience of extreme weather conditions.