Search and Rescue Team

The United Kingdom International Search and Rescue Team (UK-ISAR) is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to humanitarian accidents or disasters anywhere in the world.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has an International Search and Rescue (ISAR) Team. The team responds to requests from the Government to help out during international disasters.

About the International Search and Rescue Team (ISAR)

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has an International Search and Rescue Team.

The team responds to requests from the Government to help out during international disasters.

The intention is for the team to arrive in the affected country within 24 hours of the disaster and be self-sufficient for 10 days.

In order to achieve this, the team members have to be trained firefighters. They have been selected as suitable for the work and are fully inoculated for working overseas.

Additional training is required by all team members, which is over and above the training that is required for normal fire service duties.

These personnel must then take with them a range of equipment which will enable them to live and work in hostile environments anywhere in the world.

Background to the International Search and Rescue Team

Service teams were sent out to Iraq at the end of the Gulf War in support of the Operation 'Safe Haven' and provided humanitarian assistance to the Kurdish population fleeing from an oppressive Iraqi regime.

This effort was so successful that in 1992 the Home Office invited fire services to form an organisation to respond to international disasters. The organisation formed to meet this need was initially called 'The United Kingdom Fire Services Search and Rescue Team.'

Following this, the International UK Search and Rescue Team (UK-ISAR) was established.

Previous deployments

Deployment to Malawi

In March 2023 Station Manager Carl Nevitt from our International Search and Rescue (ISAR) team travelled to Malawi as part of a 27-strong UK ISAR Team to help save lives in the aftermath of the devastating cyclone which hit the country.

The team rescued over 300 people who were stranded by floods, delivered capacity training to the Malawi defence force in the use of the boats and flood response and also worked with the world food programme to deliver aid.

Deployment to Türkiye

Following the two devastating earthquakes in Türkiye on Monday 7 February 2023, four firefighters from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service were immediately deployed by the UK government to assist rescue efforts, following a request from the Turkish government for support.

The UK International Search and Rescue (UK-ISAR) team included Watch Manager Andy Clarke from Chester Fire Station, Firefighter Ian Wilson from Lymm Fire Station and Crew Manager Dan Reid and Firefighter John Monaghan, both based at Penketh Fire Station. They flew out to Gaziantep on Tuesday 8 February as part of a 77 strong team of specialists that also included  four search dogs and associated rescue equipment.

The UK-ISAR team carried out search and rescue operations in the province of Hatay, which is the area in the southeast of Türkiye at the epicentre of the earthquakes. The team worked alongside Turkish and international colleagues to help search for, and rescue, any survivors. The UK-ISAR team rescued several individuals during their time in Türkiye.

Deployment to Nepal

In April 2015 team of six firefighters from Cheshire and a rescue dog went to Nepal on a search and rescue mission following the devastating earthquake in Nepal that killed more than 8000 people.

The Cheshire team joined a 67 strong International Search and Rescue (ISAR) Team.

The six from Cheshire:

  • Mark Coleman, based at the Service’s Headquarters in Winsford

  • Alexander Hayes, based at Crewe Fire Station

  • Stuart Devereux, based at the Service’s Headquarters in Winsford

  • John Turner, based at Chester Fire Station

  • Daz Tennant, based at Chester Fire Station.

  • Plus, Steve Buckley, an on-call firefighter at Knutsford Fire Station and the search and rescue dog, Bryn.

Deployment to Bosnia

In April 2014 team of firefighters from Cheshire returned safely from a challenging mission to Bosnia that involved them battling with difficult conditions to rescue people trapped by flood water. The flooding took place between 13 and 18 May of that year.

Six Cheshire firefighters went out to Bosnia and Herzegovina to help in the aftermath of wide-spread flooding that had resulted in a state of emergency being declared in parts of the Balkan region.

The six, who formed part of a 33 strong UK Flood Response Team, were:

  • Watch Manager, Mark Coleman, based within the training department at the Service’s Headquarters in Winsford

  • Watch Manager, Paul Bickerton, based within the training department at the Service’s Headquarters in Winsford.

  • Station Manager, Mark Bushell, based at Runcorn Fire Station

  • Crew Manager, Daryl Codling, based at Knutsford Fire Station

  • Firefighter, Alexander Hayes, based at Crewe Fire Station

  • Firefighter, John Turner based at Warrington Fire Station.

Watch Manager, Mark Coleman, who was Cheshire’s team leader, explained: “The flood water had had a devastating impact on the communities out there. Many people had found themselves completely cut off without clean water, food or medication for days.

“We took with us boats and other equipment that enabled us to reach these remote areas and rescue people, who I am certain would not have survived if we had not reached them when we did.

“Many of those we rescued were located in the remote areas of northern Bosnia, which was where the floods had first hit. On just our first day out there we rescued 19 people including a grandmother, her daughter and grand-daughter who had not had anything to eat or drink for more than three days.”

The rescue team had to deal with some tough conditions as they attempted to reach people trapped by the waters.

Mark added: “The temperature was between 36 and 38 degrees and, because of the amount of debris in the water, we found ourselves having to row the boat rather than use the motor - hot work especially when wearing a protective dry-suit!

“However, the look of relief and sheer gratitude on the faces of the people we met more than made up for any discomfort we encountered. Many of them knew they would not have survived much longer. Their first instinct was to throw their arms around us in a big hug – it was just so moving.”

In addition to rescuing people the team also worked alongside engineers to restore power to a large number of homes that had been without it for more than seven days.

Although attending to people was the team’s first priority they were also able to help transport food to livestock and animals who had also been cut off by the water.

The six from Cheshire worked alongside firefighters from Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, West Midlands and West Sussex.

Deployment to Japan

Cheshire Firefighter Steve Buckley and Border collie search dog Bryn have returned home after being deployed to Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

They arrived back at Manchester airport on Saturday following a week away where they were seconded to an International Search And Rescue (ISAR) team from Kent. Following their direct flight to an air base in the north of Japan they awaited the arrival of a team from the United States, who provided buses for their route to the town of Ofunato.

Following a seven hour journey Steve and Bryn joined a team of 64 who initially searched an industrial area of the town. They then spread to search the residential areas.

On the Tuesday they were redeployed to a town called Kamaishi further up the coast, where no search teams had previously been.

Steve described the conditions as restricting as it had already been snowing prior to their arrival, and thick snow covered the ground which hampered their mobility due to the amount of debris under foot, which was disguised by the snow fall.

Describing the devastation, Steve, who has previously visited earthquake sites said, "Unlike a straightforward earthquake, the tsunami had done so much more damage. Boats had been carried with the force of the water and just dropped in the middle of the town some 600 metres from the sea. What I saw was nature at its most damaging with the force that the water toppling houses over on their roofs and water lines more than 20 feet high on houses which were over 400 metres from the sea.

Steve has nothing but praise for the rescue dog Bryn, "He wasn't fazed by anything that we came across. He was calm under all the pressure, during the travelling and during the rescue mission. He was even injured on the Monday, when he cut his leg during a search of a house, but didn't even make a sound. Fortunately we had a Doctor on our team who looked after him. He proved that with all the training we have done that this mission pulled together everything we have been working towards".

Although the teams didn't find any trapped victims, they did recover bodies allowing the Japanese people to find some closure on finding their loved ones. Steve added, "The people we met, although in deep shock, were humbling and dignified in the light of such tragedy. We were given such a warm reception. I would also like to thank my fellow ISAR team members for their efforts and professionalism under harrowing conditions."

Deployment to New Zealand

The Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service International Search and Rescue (ISAR) Team went to New Zealand on 23 February 2011 for a 15-day operation.

The Cheshire ISAR team helped with the aftermath of the devastating 6.3-magnitude earthquake which hit Christchurch on 22 February 2011.

The members of the Cheshire team were:

  • Mark Coleman, based at CFRS Headquarters in Winsford.

  • Station Manager Stuart Devereux, based at CFRS Headquarters in Winsford.

  • 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

During their time in New Zealand the team searched and cleared three complete city blocks and also carried out searches on specific buildings.

This included a major operation around the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation office block which had seen multiple rescues in the early stages.

Last updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2023