OPERATION NEW YEAR EXERCISE

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.

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Firefighters Take The Reins For Foxy Rescue

To look at Foxy now, you wouldn’t think she had gone through one of the most unique and difficult rescues Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service’s Technical Rescue team have ever had to undertake.

It was in the afternoon of 24 May when Foxy, an eleven year old Irish Sport Horse, fell backwards into a well in a field at her livery in South-West Leicestershire. After the initial arrival of an engine from Hinckley, the Technical Rescue team, based at Southern Station on Meridian Business Park were called to the scene to help rescue Foxy.

Mark Edwards, from Technical Rescue’s Blue Watch, arrived on the scene and knew this was going to be a unique scenario: “We were faced with a metre diameter well, with the only part of the horse visible being the knees, head and neck – the rest of her body was submerged below water.

“It’s out of the ordinary; not something you come across every day. We’ve only ever seen one other animal in a well and that was a bull. We’d never seen anything quite like this before. It’s not a situation you can train for or envisage because you wouldn’t have thought a horse could get into that position in the first place.”

Just getting Tech Rescue to Foxy proved difficult in itself. The crews unique and specialist training meant they were required to attend another incident in Syston. Mark recalls: “The whole day was bizarre because we’d just left the M69 to attend the incident with Foxy when we were requested to turn back down the motorway with a call of someone trapped under a HGV.

“We went all the way to the incident, where you’re expecting to pull someone from a HGV, only to be told when you turn up that the crew in attendance had literally just pulled the person out. We asked if they minded if we left, so we got back in the vehicle to come all the way back to the livery.”

With Foxy in a water-filled well and in an extremely precarious position, the crews from Technical Rescue, Hinckley and Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Animal Rescue team needed to come up with a plan to get her out safely. That plan was made harder when the crews realised there was no room down the well and it was too unsafe with the position Foxy had found herself in.

The worst case scenario was also debated, as Mark recollects: “There was a considerable amount of discussion that took place as to whether it was a viable rescue or not, and there were divided opinions about whether we were going to be actually able to achieve the rescue within animal welfare. So we requested the police in case we needed a marksman.”

Two plans were thought up on the best way to get Foxy out of the well, one of which involved using a mechanical digger to dig down alongside the well and break through the side. However, it was decided to initially try working from the top so that crews were safe. They began to feed the strop (rescue harness) down and around Foxy’s back, hooking it back underneath her front legs. The method is one normally reserved for dragging trapped horses lying flat on the ground. “It’s certainly not a technique used for lifting a horse, but it was the only way that we could manage to do it” says Mark.

The rescue crews’ biggest problem was getting the strops round Foxy to achieve a vertical lift. Once this was successful the mechanical digger that had arrived from Hinckley completed the lift to save Foxy. The crews plans had succeeded, but not without cost.

While every technical rescue provides lessons for officers, this unique rescue gave Officer Edwards and the crew a valuable lesson: “We managed to get the strops on the front legs and round her chest but it’s believed this may have caused Foxy some medical problems. Unfortunately this was the only way we were going to get her out quickly but we’ve learned a lot from that and taken that information away for training and any future rescues like this.”

Warwickshire Fire and Rescue’s Animal Rescue team were an important assistance to the Technical Rescue crew. Only recently created, they held state-of-the-art equipment which LFRS’ Tech Rescue crew lacked. The equipment used was so important in the rescue that Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service have since purchased the same equipment for their team.

After Foxy was lifted to safety, the important task fell to the vets to ensure Foxy was assessed and didn’t cause herself any further injury. Jonathan Bryars of Chine House Vets, said: “As Foxy got to the top we gave her some sedation so she didn’t get too excited. We also had to keep her laying on the ground until the heavy sedation had worn off. We wanted to assess that she didn’t have any broken legs. Then when she was more awake we helped her up.”

After her rescue and examination, Foxy had suffered a fracture on the back of her knee, which led to a joint infection, along with superficial wounds.

Arrangements were made for Foxy to be taken to Rossdales Equine Hospital in Newmarket and she received intensive care and treatment for a total of eight weeks.

While the knee injury and infection still needs dressing, this luckiest of horses managed to fully recover from all her other injuries.

Amy Badge, Foxy’s owner, has owned her for three years now and was at university in Bath completing her first year studying Economics when the incident occurred. However, with exams taking place, Amy’s dad decided not to tell Amy what had happened until a week later, whilst Foxy began her recuperation: “I couldn’t believe it when I heard what had happened to Foxy, I was just getting onto a bus at uni and broke down into tears, it was devastating news and it’s something my family and I, along with those involved, will never forget.

You’d have thought an incident such as this would have been traumatic for poor Foxy, but not so according to Amy: “She’s always been a gentle horse, but considering how bad the injuries were she’s not really been as spooked as we expected her to be, although having a lot of people around her unnerves her at the minute, but nowhere near as bad as we expected!”

Large animal rescues are frequent incidents for fire and rescue service’s to attend and Leicestershire’s is no exception. Thanks to specialist teams many of these incidents result in a positive outcome (although not always). Amazingly, despite the bleak situation, Foxy’s amazing rescue by the crews in attendance ensured the day did not end tragically. Thankful to all those involved in her rescue, Foxy is now back in South-West Leicestershire and in the final stages of recovery from her injuries… hopeful of never seeing a Technical Rescue team ever again!

Photography by Andy Hartley (LFRS), Mark Badge and Alistair Lanagham at http://www.thestudio17.co.uk

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A HAPPY REUNION: (l-r) Jonathan Bryars (Chine House Veterinary Practice), Firefighter Dave Bate (Blue Watch technical Rescue) Foxy, Amy Badge and Crew Manager Mark Edwards (Blue Watch Technical Rescue)

A HAPPY REUNION: (l-r) Jonathan Bryars (Chine House Veterinary Practice), Firefighter Dave Bate (Blue Watch Technical Rescue) Foxy, Amy Badge and Crew Manager Mark Edwards (Blue Watch Technical Rescue)