Rescue team known around the world marks 10th anniversary

International relief efforts allow the team to put their vital skills to the test
International relief efforts allow the team to put their vital skills to the test

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s Technical Rescue Unit marks a major milestone this week – ten years of specialist operations.

The team is regarded around the world for the expertise it can provide in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Evacuating people from flooded areas is one of the teams roles

Evacuating people from flooded areas is one of the teams roles

Since it was formed, on April 4, 2006, it has played a key role in UK International Search and Rescue (UKISAR) missions in Indonesia, Haiti, New Zealand, Japan and Bosnia.

Last year, six members of the unit flew out to Nepal following the devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands.

The unit is based in Horley and its specialist skills are used on a daily basis across the county.

Members have additional training and equipment to manage urban search and rescue, rope rescue, water rescue and large animal rescue.

Six members of the unit flew out to Nepal following the devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands

Six members of the unit flew out to Nepal following the devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands

That means their work can be as varied as evacuating people from flooded areas one day, to lifting large animals, like cows or horses, the next.

Watch manager Mick Lewin, one of four original members, said: “We are a small team, in a relatively small service, but the way we work is recognised across the world.

“On a daily basis we provide 24-hour cover for incidents across West Sussex that require a greater degree of safety or technical advice.

“When we do get a chance to support international missions it is not just a case of providing vital humanitarian support – the relief efforts we carry out allow us to develop and test vital skills that we can bring back to the UK.

This view from the dizzy heights of the 100m chimney at Shoreham Power Station

This view from the dizzy heights of the 100m chimney at Shoreham Power Station

“We are hugely grateful that we are allowed to carry out this work, and for the support we get from people in West Sussex. We know we have made a real difference in the ten years we have been in operation.”

The unit was originally formed when the British government identified a need to enhance urban search and rescue capability within the UK following the catastrophic events in the United States of September 11, 2001.

At the same time West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service had identified a range of incidents that needed specific additional skills and training, such as rescues on or near water, in confined spaces, or from height.

West Sussex already had an overseas search and rescue team with basic urban search and rescue skills but additional training and equipment were then provided.

Lee Neale, acting executive director for communities and public protection and chief fire officer, said: “We are rightly proud of our Technical Rescue Unit. They are a highly skilled and motivated team who provide a great deal of support to communities across West Sussex.

“Our fire and rescue service is a whole team effort and there is a huge amount of commitment required when TRU members are sent out on international search and rescue missions. That is not just commitment from those prepared to drop everything to travel in to difficult conditions at a moment’s notice, but for their colleagues who stay behind and provide cover here and for all of the families who support our staff to carry out the vital work that they do.”

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