Challenge for fire crews after 999 ‘disaster’

SMASH: A car wrecked in the 'disaster'.
SMASH: A car wrecked in the 'disaster'.

MORE than 40 injured people were trapped inside a collapsed building following an explosion at Kirklees College.

Firefighters were told there had been an explosion at the college’s Huddersfield campus at 4am last Monday – but as they left they were informed it was an in depth training exercise, since described by fire chiefs as their most challenging ever.

As the the devastation unfolded, crews were joined by the West Yorkshire urban search and rescue team (USAR) based at Cleckheaton, as well as crews from London, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Tyne and Wear, as well as the National Resilience Team and search and rescue dogs.

They worked in confined spaces as little as 40cm high – with no natural light – to rescue the casualties.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue had spent six months putting together its most challenging training exercise to make sure firefighters were prepared for such a situation.

The collapsed accommodation block was constructed in the basement of the college building.

It was littered with obstacles and debris, and the crews worked in darkness through the night in freezing temperatures, using specialist equipment to locate the casualties.

The injured people were volunteers from the college and Huddersfield Town Football Club’s youth training programme.

West Yorkshire deputy chief fire officer Steve Beckley said: “I am pleased to report that the exercise was a fantastic success without exception.

“It is clear that the exercise was a real test of our capability and all those involved appear to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

One of the most satisfying elements of the exercise was to see all the USAR teams working so well alongside regular firefighters and ambulance hazardous response teams deep inside the collapsed structure.

“The people of West Yorkshire and the rest of the country should certainly be reassured that if and when we are called upon to respond to such a disaster we will not be found wanting.”