Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service do more than just put out fires. We have highly trained crews who are trained for many things such as road traffic collisions and technical rescue work. Due to the forever changing environments, we have to make sure that our crews skills are refreshed and updated regularly in order to keep them on top of their game and prepared at all times – you never know when they are going to be needed!

Recently our Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR) had to take part in Operation New Year Exercise, which was arranged by our very own Paul Purser. This was a USAR exercise for Zone 2 Essex, Buckinghamshire, West Midlands, Norfolk, Lincoln and ourselves and, was organised as part of our assurance process for USAR.

It turned out to be an excellent weekend made up of a number of workshops on the Friday and Saturday. These consisted of breaking and breaching technical search, shoring, lifting and moving and, working on a rubble pile. At 01:00am on the Sunday morning, Operation New Year began and the teams worked all the way through until 09:00am the same day – not an easy training exercise to say the least.

This training event allowed specialist teams to train and work together in a live environment. The ability to train in these environments is essential to emergency services such as ourselves. It allows preparation for worst-case scenarios on site prior to any actual emergency happening. This prior knowledge is invaluable as it enhances the potential for successful outcomes  if and when a real life scenario occurs.

The experiences of the day allowed all the teams involved to learn from one another, helping them better enhance their skill set. They were able to share ideas and learning outcomes which can only help them in the future. On behalf of everyone involved during the exercise, we would like to say a huge thank you.



It is with great sorrow that USAR Dog Gemma passed away today at the grand age of 18 years and 5 months.

Gemma was an extraordinary search dog and a special companion. Very rarely would we be parted, until her retirement in 2009.

She continued to come to work, still thinking that she was operational. Until she realized that she could have a lay in! She would then open up her eyes and acknowledge my presence before going back to sleep, especially if it was an early morning start, whilst Abby and Maya would be running around waiting to get out the door.

Here are just a few of her milestones in her life:

  • Picked up by me, out of a box of yellow Labradors at 9 weeks old in a North Wales dog rescue home
  • Travelled and worked on 5 continents
  • Deployed to several major earthquakes
  • Awarded a global award for her work in Washington DC USA
  • 10 year long service award from Leicestershire Fire and Recue Service
  • Attended numerous incidents in the UK, one of these being the Glasgow factory gas explosion
  • Attended many station open days and national events
  • She was instrumental in training numerous handlers, USAR technicians and firefighters from many different fire and rescue services and international teams in the use of dogs in Urban Search and Rescue work.

In simple terms, Gemma was the dog that any handler would strive to own. She was a natural search dog and a dream to work with. She was one in a million and will be sadly missed by all of our family.

Chris Pritchard

Firefighter – Technical Rescue and Urban Search and Rescue

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