Fire and Rescue Service Training Exercise with CSTS - 'Challenging, but Extremely Beneficial'

CSTS maintains a great working and training partnership with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. Both organisations come together periodically at our training centre in Warrington to carry out exercises at CSTS' unrivalled confined space training facility.  Having an appreciation for each other's work provides a learning environment which is ideal for perfecting the skills required during confined space rescues.

The Challenge

Team One being briefed by the Incident Commander.

Fire fighters from Runcorn fire station asked if (once again) CSTS could help organise and run a training exercise that involved a much tougher scenario to handle than had been used during past visits.

A member of CSTS’s specialist department, the Confined Space Support Teams (CSST), who is also an On Call Fire Fighter for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service in his spare time, liaised with Fire Service management to create an exercise that would be both physically and mentally demanding for the fire crews.

CSTS's state of the art underground training rig consists of a 6.5m multi-landing shaft which leads into a 35m 1.2m diameter tunnel, with a 600mm pipe joining another identical 35m tunnel with a 900mm exit. The facility has the capability to allow the users to monitor exercises from various access points, and also introduce synthetic smoke as and when required. These functions make the facility ideal for emergency services when conducting specialist training.

The scenario involved the use of three casualties, of varying weight, hidden by synthetic smoke, along with a wide array of obstacles in the tunnels, making for a challenging exercise where only the most dynamic approach would be successful.


The Strategy

Fire fighter waiting at the bottom of entry shaft.

Two fire appliances arrived at CSTS at 11.30am, and were told that they were required to enter a confined space via a 6.5m shaft, negotiate an unknown length of tunnel and rescue up to three reported casualties following a dust explosion.

The crews were responsible for gathering and setting up all necessary equipment for the task, including their breathing apparatus (B.A) sets, then report to the Incident Commander (IC) as soon as possible.

A member of CSST, along with the IC then briefed the crews and separated them into three teams. Team One donned their B.A whilst the remaining fire fighters set up a height safety system using various lines and pieces of the standard height safety pack on the appliances. This system was then used as fall protection for the fire fighters as the entered the shaft and down to the first tunnel.

Fire Fighters dragging a casualty (80 kg dummy) through tunnel.

The search and rescue procedures drilled into the fire fighters during training, along with high powered torches, meant that the synthetic smoke, which was being used to imitate heavy dust, severely restrict vision, and which would normally wreak havoc on an unwittingteam of rescuers, was in fact rendered insignificant and merely a minor annoyance.

After around five minutes a radio message was received indicating that the first casualty had been located by Team One behind rubble from the blast.

The second team was mobilised and tasked to continue searching past the location of the first casualty having successfully manoeuvred around the exiting Team One.  Team One then used a casualty evacuation sling along with a 5:1 ratio lifting set up to raise the first casualty out of the space.

After only a further fifteen minutes the two remaining casualties had been located by Teams Two and Three, and this process was repeated, with the casualties being extricated safely from the confined space.

The Outcome

During the de-brief of the exercise, it became clear that although the task had been very strenuous and mentally demanding, there had been a huge amount gained from increasing the difficulty and altering the training environment away from one which the fire fighters would usually operate in.

Some points were raised regarding effectiveness of kit and how it could be adapted to better suit rescues in confined spaces, along with planning a more effective strategy for moving the casualties long distances in such small spaces.

The member of CSST who was overseeing the exercise, explained the techniques which would be adopted within industry, and came to a conclusion that a combination of both approaches would probably produce the most efficient and fastest solution to an emergency situation.

A member of Cheshire Fire Services management, and exercise leader on the day, Tony Perischine described the exercise as:

“It was very interesting and extremely beneficial to conduct an exercise that it is foreseeable we could come across, but are not regularly able to train for.”

The exercise was such a success that further training has already been scheduled.

Our Confined Space Support Teams supply standby rescue teams and on-site support to clients working in confined spaces and similar hazardous environments.  They are also available to help develop your teams - if you would like to enquire about our rescue drill exercises or development days email