Lancashire Fire Operations Group wildfire appliances and major equipment demonstration exercise

In line with many other areas in the United Kingdom that are now facing increasing risk from large “Wildfires” (In this area grass and moorland fires), after considerable work on the subject Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service decided to form a Lancashire Fire Operations Group.

Essentially such FOGs consist of all the various and often diverse groups, that have a vested interest in the progression of a partnership approach to the whole issue of “Wildfires”, led of course by the representative Fire and Rescue Services who have a Statutory requirement to attend such wildfires.

Wildfires in the UK are becoming increasingly common, and besides the obvious damage to the landscape and vegetation, also have economic implications, an effect on local tourism, potentially release very large amounts of CO2 emissions, and tie up often considerable emergency resources in combating such fires.

For example, within Lancashire, the huge moorland fire on Anglezarke Moor in April 2011, caused damage to 10.17km2 of moorland and forestry, and was the largest recorded wildfire in England in 2011, visible even from satellite surveillance!

The inaugural meeting of the Lancashire FOG was held on Wednesday 28th March 2012 and it was quickly decided that following the support shown for the meeting, a wildfire appliance and equipment demonstration was appropriate.

Organised and coordinated by LFRS Station Manager Shaun Walton, Service Delivery Manager for Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service, the exercise took place today on Bleasdale Fell in the Trough of Bowland.

At 07:45 this morning Bolton MRT Team Leader Garry Rhodes MBE, and members Nick Berry, John Fletcher, John Dickinson, Chris Tennant, David Crawford and Dave Marsh all met up at our Ladybridge Hall base to depart for the exercise RVP, taking along three of our team Land Rover mountain rescue ambulance vehicles (BM1, 2 and 4)

We were accompanied by GMFRS White Watch Manager from Bolton North Fire Station, Nigel Booth, who came along as an observer due to his involvement in a planned similar nature small-scale exercise North of Bolton on July 28th 2012.

We arrived at the exercise RVP at the Clough Head Cottages, within the Bleasdale estate, near to Garstang, for the 09:00 first briefing. The exercise today was to showcase and demonstrate all the different services and elements that would be brought together to fight wildfires in the Lancashire area.

With all participating services and their vehicles at the RVP the exercise scenario envisaged a wildfire on the top of Bleasdale Fell, which necessitated the laying of a vast length of fire hose onto the moor via temporary dams and staged pumping.

At the exercise fire location, various equipment used to fight wildfires was on show, and demonstrated including fogging and misting jets, specialist vehicles and helicopter over flights utilising specialist water buckets.

A considerable number of different organisations (and those with an interest in such wildfire events) attended today, which also generated a large amount of press and TV media coverage.

By mid-afternoon the exercise concluded with all aims and objectives met and with a general feeling that all such aims had in fact been exceeded.

The following resources and organisations were present at the excellent exercise: (please note this list may not be complete)

  • Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service
    • Senior officers and management
    • Pump ladder appliances
    • Mobile fire station control unit
    • Polaris 6×6 all-terrain-vehicle
    • Softrak specialist all-terrain-vehicle
    • High volume pump units
    • Land Rover personnel carrier
    • Urban Search & Rescue personnel and personnel carrier
  • Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service
    • Specialist wildfire appliance
  • Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service
    • Specialist wildfire appliance
  • Bay Search and Rescue Team
    • Two Hagglund all-terrain-vehicles including powered trailer units
    • Two rigid-axle trucks (to transport both Hagglunds)
    • Two Land Rover support vehicles
    • 4×4 all-terrain-vehicle
    • One crew bus
  • Bolton Mountain Rescue Team
    • Seven personnel
    • Three Land Rover Mountain Rescue ambulances
  • Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team
    • One control unit vehicle
    • Two Land Rover Mountain Rescue ambulances
  • United Utilities
    • Three all-wheel-drive specialist all-terrain-vehicles (Centaur and Argocat) equipped with fire fogging equipment
  • Bleasdale Estate
    • Argocat all-terrain vehicles
  • Wyre Council Countryside Rangers
    • 4×4 vehicle
  • Salvation Army
    • Mobile canteen unit vehicle (Greater Manchester)
  • Pennine Helicopters Ltd
    • Bell 206 Longranger helicopter with specialist aerial fire bucket
  • Representatives from specialist media publications
  • Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Moorland Association

The role of Bolton MRT and Bowland Pennine MRT at this very successful exercise was to provide communications assistance, real-time GPS plotting of the exercise fire front and other resources, traffic control duties on the steep hill tracks in use, transportation of personnel including journalists, firefighters and other exercise personnel, and hose equipment recovery.

The Bolton MRT would like to thank all the residents and staff members who put up with our intrusion into the relatively remote area of Clough Head cottages and the Bleasdale Estate buildings in Bleasdale.

As usual all present on this exercise would like to thank the two members of the Salvation Army for managing to cater for the drink and food needs of the very large number of personnel involved in this exercise.

Special thanks to LFRS Station Manager and Service Delivery Manager Shaun Walton, the originator of the event, for his huge effort in getting this exercise together and its successful outcome.

A final thanks to Jeremy Duckworth, the Moorland Association’s Lancashire representative and owner of Bleasdale Fell for his very kind provision of “refreshments” at the conclusion of today’s exercise! (One of the rewards of being amongst the very last exercise participants to leave the exercise RVP)

The next meeting of the Lancashire Fire Operations Group is scheduled for mid-summer and will be followed by further smaller-scale exercises of this nature. The Bolton MRT, along with our colleagues in Bowland Pennine MRT, Rossendale and Pendle MRT (who could not attend today) and our similar volunteer friends in Bay Search & Rescue Team all welcomed the opportunity to take part in this exercise and to contribute in a very positive way to the Lancashire Fire Operations Group.

As a footnote this exercise generated a considerable amount of interest via Tweets throughout the day, with further interest generated throughout the entire Northwest TV region via the Granada Reports region news programme at 18:00 today.

(Please also see website news report dated Wednesday 28th March 2012)

One ride in a Hagglund, and already our Team Leader wants one!

One of the two Bay Search and Rescue Hagglund vehicles attending today’s exercise

Some of the resources present at the RVP

Bowland Pennine MRT control vehicle

GMFRS and Cumbria FRS wildfire appliances

Inserting the suction unit for the high-volume pump into the pond at Clough Head farm

Portable dam unit in operation

Bolton MRT vehicle BM4 Land Rover and the LFRS Softrak vehicle

A small man-portable pump and hose unit being demonstrated

Pennine Helicopters Bell 206 Longranger and under-slung firebucket

Specialist vehicle resources at the exercise fire scene

Salvation Army (Greater Manchester ) Mobile Catering Unit

one of the other little taskings we ended up doing on the day! (Bay Search and Rescue recovered the sister vehicle of this one from the same location) the identity of these bogged down vehicles are being kept a closely guarded secret by ourselves and Bay Search and Rescue.