Crews train for major emergencies

SET against a backdrop of smoke filtering through the undulating landscape of RAF Honington, a fire crew rescues a man who had been injured in a watchtower after a deadly lightning strike.

SET against a backdrop of smoke filtering through the undulating landscape of RAF Honington, a fire crew rescues a man who had been injured in a watchtower after a deadly lightning strike.

A work of fiction or a chilling insight into a future emergency? While most would point to the former, it was the threat of some wide-scale disaster at the base that led to yesterday's major incident exercise designed at seeing how Suffolk's services would cope in an emergency.

The exercise was designed to test the response of agencies including Suffolk County Council, the Royal Air Force, Suffolk's police and fire services and local ambulance services.

Assessed throughout the day, the services were working on the scenario that lightning had hit the RAF site, which is home to various munitions, and the associated problems from the natural disaster.


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Though purely fictitious, everyone involved in the project was well aware of the importance of preparing for a major incident.

Flt Lft Tom Dobbing, media liaison officer at RAF Honington, said: "The exercise, for the base, was an opportunity to test our major accident control regulation plan.

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"We have a general disaster plan to combat against any kind of incident including aircraft crashes, a fire or some kind of explosion.

"The day went very well and we were able to work very closely with the civilian emergency services.

"We feel the exercise is as close to the real thing as it could be and everyone seemed to act in a professional and calm manner."

The emergency services were told there were a number of casualties and even some fatalities from the mock disaster and smoke, flames and simulated explosions were features throughout the day.

In one of the more daring exercises, four crew from the base's own fire service were forced to climb a watchtower to rescue an injured man.

Watching over them was ADO John Hubble, of Suffolk Fire Service, who said: "Although we are working within certain parameters, this exercise is as near as it could be. The more opportunity we have to train in real life situations the better."

Divisional officer Kevin Burton, who acted as the incident commander, added: "The exercise allowed us to utilise our resources with RAF Honington and I think it went pretty well from our point of view.

"But we have now learned that one of our main issues is one of communication as the large earth banks around the munitions was causing a problem with our radio signals."

The exercise was organised and planned by Suffolk County Council, with the RAF, and also included the lesser-known roles of voluntary organisations including the Salvation Army and St John's Ambulance.

Peter Monk, the county council's portfolio holder for public protection, said: "We all hope a major incident will never happen but of course, we need to practice our plans and procedures to make sure that if it does, all the agencies concerned can respond in a co-ordinated way."

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