Firefighters had to free passengers trapped on a double-decker bus which hit a bridge in Swanscombe yesterday afternoon (28 May), killing one and seriously injuring three others but thankfully – for those involved – it was a training exercise.
The scenario involved 20 firefighters from Swanscombe and Dartford Fire Stations, as well as a specialist crew from Kent Fire and Rescue Service’s (KFRS) Technical Rescue team based in Maidstone.
The simulated training exercise began when a passing motorist phoned KFRS’s emergency control centre just before 2.30pm after the bus was involved in a crash under a low bridge, with four passengers trapped on the upper deck.
Three fire engines rushed to the scene of the London Bus and Truck Company on Northfleet Industrial Estate and Exercise Director, Julian Light, said: "Fortunately this type of situation doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, we need to be prepared and know the types of challenges and difficulties we will be faced with. Training like this is an integral and on-going part of our job and encourages crews to think on their feet, quickly weigh up a situation and act accordingly."
While one crew worked feverishly in limited space on the top deck of the bus assessing and prioritising the casualties and providing emergency first aid care, a second crew got to work stabilising the bus. They used KFRS’s new hydraulic heavy rescue equipment to cut away the side of the bus to create an opening to enable a safe and effective method to release the casualties.
Julian added: "This upgraded technology, which is available on 11 of our fire engines is designed to enable us to deal with the advances in vehicle design and construction that we are faced with on a daily basis. It gives us enormous power and an enhanced capability so that we can cut through the toughest of steel fixings."
Once crews had made an access space, they were able to lower the first casualty to the ground using a multi-integrated bodysplint stretcher (MIBS). These are used for rescuing injured people from confined spaces, allowing the casualty to be strapped onto the flexible stretcher and winched up or lowered to safety.
Meanwhile a special platform was erected, providing better stabilisation and making it easier for the crews to work safely at height to access and release the remaining two casualties who were lowered to the ground in the Technical Rescue team’s specialist rescue stretcher.
The exercise, aptly named Operation Roof Chop, lasted for two hours and was made possible with the help of the London Bus and Truck Company.
Director, Roger Wright, said: "We were happy to help KFRS with this exercise by providing an unusual and realistic training experience for them to practice and enhance their skills in a controlled environment. It is always nice to assist the emergency services with training as they do an amazing job risking their lives on a daily basis. Hopefully this exercise will help them in the future."
Julian ended: "We are really grateful to the London Bus and Truck Company for providing this excellent training opportunity. It provided us with a difficult challenge and allowed us to test how we would deal with a more unusual scenario."
Note to newsdesks: Photos of the exercise are available from the KFRS library at www.kentfirephotos.co.uk