The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower earlier this year has brought in to sharp focus the need for all Fire Service's across the UK to hone their skills at dealing with incidents in high rise buildings.
Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has carried out a series of visits and inspections to the high rise buildings across the county. This has now moved to carrying out exercises for simulated flat fires in high rise blocks of flats - firstly in Ipswich and now in Lowestoft.
Even before Grenfell, fires in high rise buildings were always seen to be dangerous for the occupants and also the firefighters that would have to deal with a fire. Firefighters have been killed at fires in high rise buildings in Stevenage (Harrow Court, 2005) and Southampton (Shirley Towers, 2010).
All of this determines the need to train for such incidents and constantly look for ways to improve how we respond as a Fire Service.
Last night fire crews from across North Suffolk - Lowestoft South, North Lowestoft, Wrentham, Bungay and Beccles - took part in an exercise at St.Peter's Court (a 16-storey tower block) in Lowestoft.
Crews met at our station - North Lowestoft - for a briefing on the exercise and to be given the order in which the pumps would be mobilised to the incident.
The Watch from Lowestoft South would already be in attendance with North Lowestoft due to be mobilised next via the turnout system at 1935.
Suited and booted, we sat on the pump waiting for the bells to go down.
On cue the station alarmed warbled and the turnout printer chattered away confirming that we were off to St. Peter's Court.
Arriving at the incident we were informed that the fire was in Flat 115 on the 11th floor. Our crew started to get kit off the pump including 2 BA sets, lengths of 45, hand controlled branches, door enforcer, first aid kit, BA Entry Control board, EASE (Emergency Air Supply Equipment) and more all going up in the lift to the bridgehead floor - Floor 9.
Once the fire was confirmed we set up a bridgehead 2 floors below the fire floor as long as it's safe to do so.
It didn't take long for the bridgehead to get quite busy as firstly our BA crew prepared to go under air and more crews started to arrive.
I was BA Entry Control Officer (BAECO) so prepared myself to look after, potentially, quite a few wearers.
Three teams of BA wearers were got under air in quick succession with Jason and Ollie form North Lowestoft taking the lead as the firefighting / search & rescue team (A1). The next team (A2) followed them up to the 11th floor and wait just inside the stairwell with a covering jet to act as a backup for A1. The third team (A3) were to be used on the stairs to help manage the two lines of 45.
Jason and Ollie entered the flat on a right hand wall with the task of extinguishing the fire and searching for the occupant of the flat.
After a few minutes I received a radio message from Jason to say the fire was extinguished and that they were continuing their search. Then another message to say that they had located the casualty in the bathroom and were making they way out of the flat. A2 assisted with the task of getting the casualty from the flat to the staircase.
A fourth BA team were committed to search a part of the flat that the first team hadn't reached before finding their casualty.
And just in case any of the BA teams got into difficulty we had an emergency BA team waiting with me at the board.
Soon after this the exercise was terminated and all the BA teams headed back to me to get their tallies and drop their sets.
We all then had the chance to go up to Flat 115 to see the layout, where the fire was (kitchen) and where the casualty was located.
To see a brief video of the exercise head to this tweet - courtesy of Ben Horne (@999Ben).
It was then a case of getting all the kit, hose and firefighters down to the ground floor before we gathered for a debrief.
It's only when everyone's together you fully understand the resources required to carry out firefighting in a high rise building and effect a rescue. For a real incident there would have been more pumps and more firefighters. Out of the 25+ firefighters there last night 10 were used as BA wearers, showing how quickly resources get used.
All in all it was a very useful exercise. The firefighters learnt a lot as did our local managers and the other observers present.
I'm just keeping everything crossed that we don't have to do this for real one day...