Firefighter gets British Empire Medal for innovative flood work

Gary Mattingley, an Operational Alignment Officer, volunteered to return to duty from leave and through using his experience gained at other national flood events, suggested binding hose which acted as a barrier to capture then stop water from flood plains deluging roads and properties.

He worked with the Environment Agency to understand the likely level of flood water and from their information recognised that he could make a difference to the February floods and lessen the impact on our communities.

His idea was swiftly implemented by Chief Fire Officer David Etheridge and resulted in keeping the Botley Road open. Another idea and different method using a high volume pump was used to quickly clear the Abingdon Road of water to make it passable.

Both roads had previously been shut for a period during January's floods, which the Local Enterprise Partnership estimated caused an economic impact to the county of about £40m.

A completely new approach

The week-long pumping operation - a system never previously used in this country - saw up to 10,000 litres of water a minute being diverted from roads and properties back into the watercourse downstream.

Mr Mattingley worked with county council colleagues; the city council; the Environment Agency and Thames Valley Police to achieve a multi-agency sign-up to the strategy.

Scores of properties remained unaffected, avoiding multiple insurance claims to property and business owners.

National recognition

The system - now known as the 'Oxford Method' - has been submitted to the Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor in the central government Department of Communities and Local Government as a national exemplar.

Mr Mattingley, 46, said: "I was absolutely shocked and overwhelmed when a letter with 'On Her Majesty's Service' came through my door informing me of the award of the British Empire Medal.

"I came up with the idea and discussed it with the Chief Fire Officer and it was agreed to take it forward - we did not know if it would work but we concluded that it was feasible so we gave it a go."

The idea was implemented first on the Botley Road, where three hoses were supported together with sandbags whilst water was pumped through to create a damn whilst water was removed to keep the carriageway clear of water.

The high volume pumping system was then utilised to clear water from the flooded Abingdon Road in the early hours of 11 and 12 February.

Mr Mattingley, who has been a firefighter with Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service for 26 years, said: "The water running through each hose on the Botley Road weighed about a tonne, so they acted as a solid damn supported by sandbags. I came up with the idea but it was my Fire and Rescue Service colleagues who implemented it and clearly the successful outcome was the result of excellent teamwork."

Kept Oxford open for business

Chief Fire Officer David Etheridge said: "Gary has been a leading player nationally for many years concerning the use of the high volume pumps which are positioned all over the UK and indeed his expertise was utilised in the Buncefield Oil Fire in 2005.

"However, in February, his quick-thinking and innovative approach kept Oxford open for business and I am absolutely delighted that his work and dedication to Oxfordshire has been recognised by the award of the British Empire Medal.

"The floods which affected Oxfordshire in January and February this year impacted on a huge amount of people - Gary's ground-breaking ideas worked superbly well and greatly lessened the effects of the huge amount of rain that we experienced.

"I would like to congratulate him and all Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service personnel and our partners who worked tirelessly around the clock to successfully deal with the flooding which occurred.

"The fact that Gary's idea has been submitted to the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser speaks for itself and shows just how highly regarded his approach is on a national scale."