The pursuance of an Offshore Firefighting Policy in the Highland and Islands is now in full swing.
Fully equipped and trained emergency response units are now located at Stornoway in the Western Isles. Kirkwall in the Orkneys and Lerwick in the Shetlands.
These units comprise of a team leader and deputy (wholetime district officers), and 15 retained officers and firefighters.
The brigade’s offshore policy is based on sound operational training and exercising the identification and acquisition of good tactical firefighting equipment, backed up by sound communications and emergency response procedures.

Good response

The geographical location of the emergency response teams (ERTs) ensures good response coverage to the brigade’s northern and western inshore and offshore shipping traffic.
It is envisaged that all requests for brigade assistance would be via the Coastguard service as they are the prime maritime rescue service and have the responsibility for co-ordinating all maritime incidents.
In the event of an offshore emergency, it is more than likely that an emergency response unit and equipment would be flown to the scene in one of the Coastguard SAR Sikorsky 61N helicopters, based at Stornoway in Lewis and Sumburgh in Shetland.
Simultaneous to this, a sea-borne response would be initiated as a hack-up to the flown response. Although response units consist of 17 members, essentially only seven members would comprise a response team.
Before deciding on what type of equipment would best suit our offshore strategy, numerous surveys were carried out with respect to other brigades already performing firefighting at sea functions. After much deliberation and trials the following package was acquired:
1              Sea survival suits and lifejackets.
2              Delivery hose and turbo spray branches.
3              International ship-to-shore connection and cellar nozzles.
4              CABA sets, spare cylinders, guidelines and BA comms.
5              High intensity portable handlamps.
6              Thermal image camera.
7              Main scheme (portable) brigade radio and hand-held portable radios.
8              First aid kit and emergency (self-heat) food rations.
9              GP lines and DP extinguisher.
10            Stability board and stability data.
The equipment is stored in specially prepared areas within the islands’ retained stations. To enable transport of the equipment to embarkation points, an appliance (WrL) lockers would have to be de-canted.
All manpower and equipment had to be precisely weighed for loading implications when responding to incidents by helicopter.
Once at or over the incident the packaged equipment payloads (in bags), would either be lowered down or hoisted up onto the vessel depending on the mode of conveyance to the incident.

Island volunteers

From the on-set, it was recognised by the brigade that all members of the emergency response units would be made up from volunteers from our western and northern island areas.
It was decided that each unit would consist of 17 members with a response team of seven members, ie team leader and six members. Wholetime district officers, whenever possible, would head the teams.
Each of the individual unit members underwent a medical and were further processed as to their swimming capabilities, sufferance of seasickness and objections to possible attendances to protracted offshore incidents.
A brigade management team was set up to co-ordinate all matters relating to selection processes. Brigade Orders and Procedures, acquisition of equipment, training and exercising and all safety and insurance matters.
A training strategy based on initial training and continuation training was undertaken by each team member. Initial training was carried out both locally and at recognised training centres in Grampian Fire Brigade’s area.
Initial training covered:
1.             Theory package consisting of ship construction, ship firefighting and stability. This was carried out locally by wholetime district officers.
2.             Sea survival training was carried out at the Robert Gordon Institute of Technology Sea Survival Centre in Aberdeen. This consisted of a tailored one-day intensive sea survival course in realistic conditions involving helicopter ditching and sea survival.

Marine training

3.             Ship firefighting/hot fire training was carried out at Grampian Fire Brigade’s training centre at Portlethan. This consisted of a one-day practical course based on effective ship firetighting, hatch entry techniques and working in hot and humid atmospheres.
4.             Helicopter training based on helicopter embarking/disembarking, helicopter safety, winching procedures and training on dry land, winching training at sea and loading and unloading procedures.
Continuation training, as its name implies, will be ongoing annually and will include both technical and practical input with emphasis on organising and taking part in offshore exercises.
The major planning intention of the brigade is to set up a fourth emergency response unit to cover the Highland Region of the brigade’s area and also act as back-up to the island response units.
This fourth unit would comprise probably wholetirne officers and firefighters from brigade headquarters and Inverness Fire Station.
The offshore management team will be tasked to review our current operational and training strategy as well as equipment needs and trends.
The brigade has fully endeavoured to implement the aims of its offshore firefighting policy, but expects that there will be lessons to be learned from our first sizable offshore incident.
(Fire magazine, Scottish Feature, August 1993. Page 23.)





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