Historically, the UK Fire Service has been responding to disasters overseas for a number of years. London Fire Brigade responded to both the Mexico City (1985), and El Salvador (1986) earthquakes and teams from London, Kent and Hampshire attended the Armenian earthquake in December 1998. However these efforts remained largely uncoordinated and any actions rested with each individual brigade.
Following the Armenian earthquake it was recognised that some form of organisational and control measures were required if a co-ordinated and effective system for overseas deployment was to be adopted. A letter to Chief Fire Officers was subsequently circulated which set out basic guidelines for overseas deployments.
Cheshire Team launched in 1991
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service became involved with the Overseas Disaster Team, along with other emerging Fire Service teams, following the Middle East Gulf War of 1991.
First deployment for the Cheshire team
A multidiscipline British team was deployed to Northern Iraq in May 1991 to assist with humanitarian aid for the Kurdish population.
The Cheshire team members consisted of Len Jukes, John Pugh, Ian Scullion and John Goodrum. They were deployed for a period of 5 weeks and were involved in areas as diverse as humanitarian assistance, re-establishing of water supplies, administering First aid, assisting military personnel and personal welfare.
Following this deployment, it became widely recognised that a greater degree of national co-ordination and control were required as Chief Officers began to realise the importance of this growth area in Fire Service operations.
How ISAR operates
A further letter to Chief Fire Officers was circulated, superseding the last, and with it was formed the foundations for today's International Search and Rescue Team (ISAR) as we know it. This protocol went into far more detail than any previous correspondence and gave recommendations on areas such as:
Structure of UK Fire Service Search and Rescue Teams
Selection of Team Members
Selection of Field Commanders
Co-ordination of response
Supplies and Equipment
There have been subsequent changes to the protocols that govern how USART operates over the years, all of which assist in guaranteeing a highly organised, suitably equipped, competently trained and totally professional Search & Rescue Team.
Structure of the team
ISAR consists of thirteen teams of Firefighters from Brigades all around the UK who are able to respond and mobilise at short notice to assist at scenes of disaster anywhere in the world.
Overall control of ISAR is the responsibility of the Home office. Requests for assistance from Government's of countries affected by disaster are received by the Home Office.
The CACFOA Steering Group (Chief And Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association) determines the policies and guidelines that ISAR works to.
Each Search and Rescue team has within it one Field Commander, the Field Commander must be of Divisional Officer rank or above.
Search and Rescue Teams can be sub-divided into smaller teams, if so then each sub team will have its own Team Leader. Cheshire Team Leaders in the past have included Mark Coleman, Station Officer Len Dukes and ADO John Bowman.
The remaining membership of the teams are comprised of Firefighters and other ranks, all team membership is voluntary.
The Dog Team
The primary role of an International Search and Rescue (ISAR) Dog Team is to assist the Fire and Rescue Services in dealing with search phases of incidents.
The Search Dog teams also conduct urban / rural lowland searches, giving assistance to local Fire and Rescue Services and/or Police Forces for location of missing persons.
More about the Search Dog team
Following the Gulf deployment, Cheshire Fire Service Search and Rescue Team adopted a vigorous training program to prepare for future deployments.
Initially the training requirements for Cheshire Fire Service USAR Team were mainly taken care of with 'in-house' training. Individual team members whom were considered to have relevant experience to deal with disaster situations gave other 'specialist' training; in essence each USART was left to its own devices.
A more structured approach to the training requirements was formulated with the production of a Home Office guidance paper in 1998. This paper gave guidance on the training requirements a ISART member should posses and/or undertake and included areas such as:
Individual Fitness for Task.
Unit Requirements, (i.e. National Team).
Core Requirements, (i.e. Personal).
Experience and Development.
As a result of these improvements the standard of training for USART personnel has improved dramatically with many of the courses now carrying a nationally recognised qualification and certification process.
A brief history of some of the training course are detailed below. These range from the initial 'forays in the dark' right through to the much more structured and certificated courses available today.
1. Snowdonia November 1991
Camp craft, Map reading, Survival in hostile environments.
2. BHQ December 1992
Training in the use of the trapped person locator.
3. Surrey December 1992
One week course training with Red Cross delegates in dealing with disasters in overseas locations.
4. Oxford August 1993
Weekend with 'Red R' teams learning emergency road construction and repair work.
5. Peak District August 1993
Three-day course in the peak district involving team building, map reading and stamina building.
6. Winsford May 1994
One day course involving basic engine maintenance, boat familiarisation and basic welding techniques.
7. Ashby de la Zouch September 1994
Three day exercise involving the mines rescue centre at Ashby de la Zouch.
8. Langdale September 1994
One-week course in Lake District simulating an earthquake disaster in the local area. Other UKFSSART teams trained with the Cheshire team.
9. Birchwood February 1995
One day training with Heavy rescue unit using shoring techniques, collapsed building scenarios, search techniques.
10. North Wales September 1995
3-day boat training exercise held along North Wales coast.
11. Cheshire September 1995
Line rescue training with Cheshire Rope Access Team; Rescues from cliff faces, abseiling, rope access skills.
12. Scotland February 1996
Four-day exercise based in the Cairngorm Mountains of Northern Scotland. Cold weather training, navigational skills, security on snow and ice.
13. Oxford September 1998
Three-day course with British Army to train with four-wheel drive/off road vehicles in different driving conditions.
14. North Wales 1996/97
Two x 1-week courses to enable Summer Mountain Leader course certificate to be gained by SART personnel.
15. Hampshire February 2000
Collapsed building scenario, helicopter training and line rescue techniques.
16. North Wales 2000/2001
Swift water rescue course, gives personnel appreciation of problems encountered with swift water rescues and working adjacent to white water.
17. Liverpool 2001
Visit to Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to learn self-protection, hygiene and recognition of venomous snakes & insects.
The above list is only a selection of the courses that the SART personnel have attended and is therefore only used to give you an appreciation of the areas of training that are required.
11 point training plan
As the teams have evolved the funding and training arrangements have greatly improved to a point where the teams can now truly be described as a professional outfit.
Following the production of the 2001 - 2002 business plan by the ISAR steering group, the latest development of training requirements has been the production of an 11-point training needs analysis.
This again takes the ISAR personnel to a more professional level of training and includes items such as:
National standard team manual setting out guidance for Brigades to competently run a SART team.
Medical needs of the teams to be assessed and relevant training provided
Feasibility of using dogs to be investigated
Any European proposals to be integrated into UK response teams
Personal protection equipment (PPE) to be standardised
Adoption of a standard Incident Command System, (ICS), system
Training across the FB teams and within UKSART to be co-ordinated
As the team members all have different employment backgrounds prior to joining the Fire Service and also have different levels and ranges of experiences since becoming Firefighters there is a large 'skill pool' available within the Cheshire ISART. From this wealth of experience and training comes the ability to mobilise a team best suited for any given deployment, e.g. in the case of the Mozambique floods Cheshire SART sent three qualified boat handlers. The experience range available allows for greater flexibility and adaptability.
The experience of the team members has been increased further by personnel attending a series of highly specialised courses as well as a variety of 'in-house', national and international training exercises.
Qualifications of the Cheshire team members
Swift Water Rescue 1
Summer Mountain Leader Award
First Aid Instructor
Safe working near water.
Rope Rescue Technician
Pre-hospital Trauma Life Support Technician
Basic Expedition Leader.
Rope Rescue Instructor
Emergency Medical Care Technician
Fork Lift Truck Operator
Disk Cutter Instructor
Hazardous Materials Officer
Fork Lift Truck Instructor
NARC Rescue Pack Operator
Time served Electrical/Mechanical Engineer
Disk Cutter Operator
NARC Rescue Pack Instructor
Time served Steel Fabricator
RYA Level 1 Boat Handler
Corgi registered Gas Fitter
RYA Level 2 Powerboat Handler
Medical Emergencies in Remote Environments
Single Pitch Instructor
Off-road Driving Instructor
Team equipment, a profile of each equipment category held by the team.
As a self contained, self sufficient unit we need to be suitably equipped to be able to deal with any scenario that may present itself whilst deployed. With this in mind we have a range of equipment that allows us to deal with all likely eventualities. Below you will see a brief overview of some of the equipment we take away with us on deployments.
Makita rotary hammer - This powerful 110v hammer allows us to chisel through reinforced concrete with ease and also, at the turn of a switch, becomes a hammer drill. It comes complete with a selection of chisel and drill bits that enable us to break through substantial layers of concrete or to drill holes large enough to allow access for our search camera.
Makita 9" angle grinder - This 110v hand grinder is ideal for cutting through re-enforcing bars in layer after layer of concrete slab. It can be fitted with regular abrasive grinding or cutting disks and also diamond tipped cutting disks.
Percussive Rescue Tool (PRT) - A very robust and versatile piece of equipment It is a hand tool designed around the principal of a slide-hammer, it comes with a selection of interchangeable bits that allow it to be utilised in different ways. It has a chisel bits, a lock breaking bit and even a metal cutting bit. Its slide hammer action means that it is ideal for working in confined areas such as tunnels and the sliding handle can be locked in the extended position to provide extra leverage if required.
'Hooligan' tool - An extremely strong and durable model of crowbar, with a spike and a flat lever at one end and a padlock breaker at the other, ideal for breaking into compartments.
Makita 6200 Disk Cutter - This two stroke petrol driven disk cutter is ideal for use in urban rescue situations, it can be equipped with either stone or metal cutting disks or the very durable diamond tipped cutting disk. Combined with a water driven dusk suppression kit it can be used to quickly cut through the strongest of concrete structures.
Rope rescue equipment - A full selection of rope rescue equipment e.g. stretchers, harness's, pulleys, rescue lines etc to enable the team to effect a rescue at height or when there is a risk to the casualty or to the rescuer from a fall etc.
SOS Rescue shovel - This is a small multi purpose tool that is carried in a pouch and is designed to be worn on a belt as a light personal hand tool. It can be utilised as a shovel, an axe, a saw and a hammer.
Hand tools - the team also has a selection of hand tools; lump hammers, chisels, sledge hammers, shovels, crowbars, large & small axes etc.
Snake Eye Search Camera - A portable hand held, full colour screen, camera system. Designed to allow visual access to areas inaccessible to personnel, allowing a full search to be carried out of any void or compartment without the need to cut large access holes first. It comes supplied with various attachments such as; extension boom, flexible 'goose neck', finger attachment, cable extensions, spare batteries.
Hawkeye search borescope kit - Equipment designed to allow visual access to voids and compartments via extremely small access holes. Used in conjunction with the above.
Trapped Person Locator 310B (TPL) - This equipment is designed to locate trapped persons through the use of sound. It consists of a series of microphones and one speaker, these are attached to the control unit via co-axial cables. The control unit has a series of LED's on the operator panel to allow the user to determine the direction of any sound picked up by the microphones. The microphones are sensitive enough to pick up the slightest breathing sounds of a casualty, even an unconscious person. The user dons a set of headphones and moves the microphones around the search area in a predetermined pattern so that any casualties can be located. The unit comes complete with a speaker phone so that communication with a casualty is possible once located.
Base Camp & Mobile Radios - We are now equipped with a mobile Tait T2015 base station radio and four Tait Orca Elan hand held radios for communication between remote teams and base camp, effective communication is vital during a deployment. The radios are rugged and powerful, making them ideal for use in extreme environments.
Base camp equipment
Honda 240/110v Generator - Petrol driven generator, ideal for providing the power to our lighting equipment as well as to the 110v rescue tools.
Electrical inverter - Handy piece equipment allows use to run any items requiring a 240v three pin plug connection. Ideal for laptop, satphone and mobile phone connections. Petrol driven.
Lighting masts - Portable lighting equipment comes complete with carry case to aid portability, bright halogen lighting suitable for lighting up base camp area as well as scene of rescue operations.
Four man tent - Regarded as a control point facility. Set up at base camp it is an ideal, large, weather resistant area from which to run the field of operations, use as an in-field communications point as well as a deployment to UK communication post.
Two man tent - Our main sleeping accommodation.
Portable chemical toilet - One of our most recent (and welcome) acquisitions.
Ancillary equipment - A selection of various items of equipment including ration storage units, dual fuel cooker, fast-erect tent for equipment storage, cooking utensils etc.
The team carries fairly comprehensive medical equipment suitable for primary and trauma care. The team has suitably trained personnel to administer the medical treatment should it be required, this will assure the safety and well being of team members whilst deployed.
Augmentin/ Amoxil/ Doxycycline (antibiotics)
Creams (Savlon, Hydrocortisone)
Co-codamol/ Paracetamol (analgesics)
Gentisone ear drops
Paraffin burn gauze
Eye irrigation fluid
Each team member has been issued with a variety of personal protection equipment (PPE). Due to the nature of the team this PPE has to be suitable for any working environment so cold and warm working clothing is issued as standard as well as regular PPE such as working overalls, helmet, gloves, goggles, torch, personal harness/belt, sleeping bags etc. In addition to this each member has the facility to sterilise and filter water of any condition to make it suitable for use should the need arise.
Rescue Team Rota
Find out about the current status of any Search & Rescue team. See when the teams are on immediate response, stand by or stood down by looking at the UKFSSART duty rota.
International Search and Rescue response guidelines
ISART are committed to working within International Search and Rescue Response Guidelines, laid down by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).
INSARAG promotes standardized criteria for training, equipment and self-sufficiency to be met by international relief teams.