Westcott hosts another ‘disaster’ to test emergency response teams

10/04/23 | Park News

Emergency service personnel from across the country have attended Westcott Venture Park to take part in a major incident training exercise.

Exercise Banjo was coordinated by Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service (BFRS) as part of the national Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)  programme and involved more than 150 personnel.

The 30-hour scenario, spread over two days on March 8 and 9, involved a mid-air collision between two aircraft with the wreckage landing on a school.

Visual props were used to replicate a scene including planes, a car on fire, piles of rubble supplied by Bucks Recycling and smoke from another local company, Concept Engineering. Fifteen actors from the Community First Responders’ team played the victims.

USAR forms part of the Government’s New Dimension programme which seeks to enhance the capability of the fire and rescue service to respond to a range of major emergencies.

USAR units from Tyne and Wear, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Essex, West Midlands, Norfolk and Leicestershire attended with dogs and handlers trained to detect live human scent and tactical advisors.

They were joined by ten Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) paramedics using a range of specialist lifesaving equipment and vehicles and Police Disaster Victim Identification teams coming from the West Midlands.

They were overseen by assessors from the National Resilience Assurance Team who monitored how the teams interacted and worked together with their findings reported back to the National Fire Chiefs’ Council.

Kevin Mercer, Aylesbury Fire Station Commander who helped coordinate the exercise, said: “These exercises are vital for helping emergency service co-ordination in response to a major incident.

“The national USAR teams are trained and exercise to be ready to respond in the event of a serious incident which require an enhanced capability outside the normal remit of the fire and rescue services.”

“We are really fortunate to have such a great relationship with Westcott which has evolved since we ran our first exercise here in 2020 (Exercise Phoenix).”

Cross-service training exercises such as Exercise Banjo are usually staged every three years and offer a key opportunity for specially trained technicians to practice a coordinated, efficient response.

It follows Exercise Phoenix which was held at Westcott in 2020 and the Fire Service also helped co-ordinate a major incident exercise, Project Ariona, held at the Park last year designed to offer a realistic disaster scenario for medical students at the University of Buckingham.

Significantly, BFRS moved to Building 350 at Westcott last year where it provides a training base for USAR.

Jayne Cannell, Westcott Business Park Manager, added: “We were pleased to welcome the disaster teams back to the park. The exercise was incredibly realistic, and everyone was hugely impressed by the skill and professionalism of the teams involved.”

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