Firefighters’ water rescue training at HR Wallingford

Oxfordshire firefighters are taking a plunge with a difference, participating in water rescue training at HR Wallingford’s specialist indoor basin - a very large pool - this week (Mon 1 Nov - Fri 5 Nov 2021).   

This is no ordinary pool. It is part of a suit of facilities that includes a purpose-built hall, extending around 14,400 m2, with huge wave basins and flumes. The flow can be adjusted to simulate various conditions such as currents, water speed and direction. This flexibility means fire and rescue trainees gain a broad range of experience in a single, safe location.

Jules Frank, Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service Training Manager, explains: “Over recent years, we have used a number of open natural water courses such as lakes and rivers, including locks and weirs; training our crews in a wide range of environments that they are likely to encounter on emergency calls.

“However, as the urban environment is increasingly likely to suffer from floods, HR Wallingford’s facility gives us an opportunity to replicate these climate-related conditions to our exact specifications. It wouldn’t be practical to create floods for training elsewhere, without causing damage to property and the local environment.

“HR Wallingford also offers a very clean water source compared to natural waterways, which is important for the health and safety of our crews.”

The training involves a number of techniques and falls into two broad categories. The first is rescuing people or animals who have got into difficulty in water. The second is firefighter safety in and around water, teaching crews what to do in the event they fall in at an incident and need to rescue themselves.

Jules explains: “Over the last 15 years, we have steadily improved our training, capabilities and equipment to deal with flooding incidents. The facility at HR Wallingford will even allow us to maroon a vehicle in the water, place a ‘casualty’ in it, who will then be rescued by the crews. This exercise simulates people being caught in a flash flood and also reinforces why residents shouldn’t drive into floodwater, large puddles, and fords. It’s extremely difficult to anticipate the depth and flow of flood water.”

Dave Todd, Lab Manager at HR Wallingford, said: “As climate change intensifies, flooding becomes more common; resulting in more incidents involving people getting into difficulties in open water. We are therefore delighted to be helping Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service keep people safe.

“Our work is increasingly focused on dealing with the challenges presented by this changing world, and we usually use our facilities for global engineering projects. So, it’s fantastic to be involved with this training; bringing real safety benefits to the local community."

Oxford Mail journalist Sophie Perry volunteered to be rescued as part of the training exercise. She shared her experience with the newspaper’s readers.

Also watch ITV Meridian’s news report.

Open water safety advice:

Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service advises that:

  • Reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and other inland water may look safe and inviting, particularly on a warm day. But there are hidden dangers below the surface that could make people ill, cause injury; even kill.
  • Even on a warm day, the temperature of the water in a reservoir, quarry or lake can remain very cold. The low water temperature can numb limbs and claim lives.
  • From the surface, it’s not always possible to see what’s under the water. This could be anything from large rocks to machinery; from shopping trolleys to branches, and even fishhooks or broken fishing line, all of which could cause injury.
  • Moving water, such as rivers, might look calm but there could be strong currents below the surface. Even reservoirs have currents, caused by working machinery. Whether or not someone’s a strong swimmer, currents can carry them into danger.

Anyone witnessing someone in trouble in the water should call 999 or 112 and shout for help. They shouldn’t enter the water themselves; instead throw something in that floats. The advice is for a person in trouble to float on their back, not try to swim.

Respect the water, even if you’re a good swimmer and familiar with the river, lake, or reservoir. Be water aware.

About HR Wallingford

HR Wallingford is an independent engineering and environmental hydraulics organisation. It delivers practical solutions to complex water-related challenges faced by international clients. A dynamic research programme underpins the work and keeps HR Wallingford at the leading edge. The unique mix of know-how, assets and facilities includes state of the art physical modelling laboratories, a full range of numerical modelling tools and, above all, enthusiastic people with world-renowned skills and expertise.



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