In June, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) utilised its state of the art training facility at Bury to test its operational preparedness. A large scale, multi-agency, multi-themed exercise was conducted to work with partners on the use of JESIP (Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles) at a major incident involving a high-rise building.
GMFRS crews and officers worked with colleagues from Greater Manchester Police (GMP), North West Ambulance Service Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) and the North West Counter Terrorism Unit to manage the scenario and tackle the fire, which presented a number of complex challenges that agencies had to work collaboratively to overcome.
North West Fire Control was also involved in the exercise and all partners had to use the principles to work together, ensuring information was shared properly and the incident was tackled correctly.
JESIP has produced much needed practical guidance to help improve multi-agency responses. It set out the standard approach for multi-agency working, along with the training and awareness products for organisations to inform their staff.
Since its initial two-year programme from 2012 until 2014, JESIP has initiated the largest and most successful joint training initiative across the emergency services. GMFRS has been integrating JESIP into all their policies and procedures. The exercise was an opportunity to work on JESIP with other organisations.
Twelve pumping appliances plus special appliances from GMFRS and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service deployed to the Bury Training and Safety Centre for the exercise, which focused on a scenario involving two large fires in the centre’s state of the art high-rise facility.
The £10m complex is the largest firefighter training centre in the UK and one of the most advanced in Europe. The centre contains facilities to practice for a variety of incidents such as air crashes, residential fires, commercial incidents and fires in high-rise premises. The facility was built to help operational staff refine their skills as well as provide learning opportunities about prevention and protection for organisations, including schools and community groups.
The staff involved were not told the details of the exercise in advance to make the training as realistic as possible and to help test their operational preparedness.
Volunteers helped to enhance the exercise by acting as casualties, ensuring that the scenario was as close as possible to a real-world fire incident.
The situation involved a fire on the fifth and sixth floors of the high-rise and crews were quickly in offensive mode, utilising breathing apparatus and hose reels inside the building to deal with a multi-seated fire.
A bridgehead sector was set up on the third floor and cordons were put in place around the building. A hydraulic platform was set up as a water tower and firefighters inside worked to rapidly evacuate the building.
A multi-agency briefing was held and a
M/ETHANE message was sent with NWAS declaring a major incident. The incident that presented itself to all agencies was complex and quickly developed from a high-rise situation into one that involved a number of scenarios including post-fire complications.
NWAS crews needed to deal with a medical emergency involving a carbon monoxide leak and firefighters were also tested after a counter-terrorism element presented itself during the exercise.
While battling the fire and searching the building, explosives and other terror-related paraphernalia was discovered by crews and, by effectively working with other agencies,
a tactical withdrawal was made.
Fire crews worked with GMP colleagues to share situational awareness and understanding of risk, and to protect the scene to preserve evidence for specialist Counter Terrorist investigation teams.
A major incident was subsequently declared by GMFRS and GMP and a further M/ETHANE message was sent before the organisers brought the training to its conclusion.
Station Manager Jim Bridge, who organised the exercise, said: “Collaborative working was tested during the exercise due to the complex and wide-ranging nature of the scenario. By applying JESIP, the exercise was handled in a professional and collaborative manner by all partner agencies.
“Operational leads from all organisations attended regular briefings and provided updates to ensure that all parties shared situational awareness at all times.
M/ETHANE was used promptly by North West Ambulance Service when a major incident was declared and the exact location, type of incident, hazards, access, casualties and the services present and required were conveyed quickly to all other agencies present.
“Using JESIP and M/ETHANE ensured information was shared quickly and easily between the several organisations involved in the exercise.”
The operational capabilities of GMFRS in a major incident, and the ability to work with other agencies was quickly put to the test following the exercise when large moorland fires broke out in Tameside and on Winter Hill on the border between Greater Manchester and Lancashire.
The fires took a number of weeks to tackle and required collaboration with a number of other fire services, local authorities, police, ambulance services, water companies, land owners and even the army, who were called in to assist with the fire in Tameside.
SM Bridge said: “I was extremely happy with how the exercise went. All of the objectives were realised and all of the partner agencies achieved the desired learning outcomes.
“There was a high level of coordination and cooperation between partner agencies. There was a lot of positive feedback gathered during the debrief and there were learning opportunities identified for all the agencies. We saw why exercises such as this are so important just weeks after it took place when we were faced with unprecedented moorland fires. These fires were challenging not just for GMFRS but all agencies and only by working together could we successfully get them under control.
“JESIP and M/ETHANE are important for us to make sure we are working with partner agencies in the most effective way possible and are communicating at all times. Our Bury facility allows us to work on a variety of real-world scenarios and is about a lot more than practicing extinguishing fires.
“This training scenario allowed us to see what we do well together but more importantly what we can improve on. It was a very complex exercise and it took a lot of planning and preparation. I want to thank everyone who helped arrange the exercise for their hard work and all who took part for their enthusiasm and professionalism.”
Crews from Hindley, Farnworth, Whitefield, Broughton, Bolton North, Eccles, Manchester Central and Hollins took part in the exercise from GMFRS as well as Bacup, Burnley, Hyndburn and Preston crews from Lancashire.
A formal multi-agency debrief will be held and the learning from the exercise will be fed back to all partners to further improve collaborative operational work in the future.