Special rescue squad to be set up

By Laurence CawleyA NEW highly specialised rescue squad being set up to pull survivors from collapsed buildings and terrorist attacks could find itself performing more mundane tasks - such as freeing trapped animals and rescuing “obese casualties from upper floors”.

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By Laurence Cawley

A NEW highly specialised rescue squad being set up to pull survivors from collapsed buildings and terrorist attacks could find itself performing more mundane tasks - such as freeing trapped animals and rescuing “obese casualties from upper floors”.

More than £1.5 million is to be spent next year setting up a new Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) unit at Essex Fire and Rescue's workshop site in Lexden, Colchester.

Preparing the workshop area will cost about £1 million and employing the new 16-strong unit, which includes two watch managers, two crew managers and 12 fire fighters, will cost of £668,190 each year.

The idea, according to the chief fire officer David Johnson, is to “respond to any, local, regional or national scale incidents involving collapsed structures”.

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Equipped with special all-terrain vehicles carrying specialised search and rescue equipment and capable of moving mounds of rubble and debris from its path, the new team would be a first port of call for major incidents such as terrorist attacks on buildings.

But the county's chief fire officer, in a report to members of Essex Fire Authority, also highlighted more standard work that the new highly trained team might be expected to carry out.

These include, according to the report, searching for animals trapped in buildings and helping in the “rescue of obese casualties from upper floors”.

A spokesman for the service yesterday said the new USAR squad, also armed with infra-red search devices and cameras at the end of cables which can fit through drilled holes, would carry out day to day work like other fire fighters in the force.

He said: “They will be very well equipped to do this sort of day to day work. There is no point having this crew simply waiting for a terrorist attack.

“They have to be deployed, that is what fire fighters do. And with their extra equipment they will be very well equipped for all eventualities.”

Recruitment of the two station managers is already underway and the search for USAR fire fighters will begin in February next year.

Their training will begin in April next year with the unit being at “full capability” by December 2006.

The Essex USAR will be one of 20 units being set up by fire authorities across the country. The Essex USAR will cover Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire.

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