Windy exercise for Cambridgeshire firefighters

Firefighters from Cambridgeshire have taken part in one of the largest scale emergency training exercise conducted in the UK on an onshore wind farm hosted by energy supplier E.ON. 

The joint training exercise, organised by Station Commander Ady Slack from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) and E.ON, saw a watch from Dogsthorpe fire station in Peterborough scale to the top of two 60-metre high wind turbines at the Stag’s Holt wind farm, near March.

Generators were turned off throughout the training exercise with firefighters working to two different scenarios – the first involving a casualty stuck at the top of the turbine who had to be lowered out of a hatch on a special stretcher; the second, a casualty who had to be lowered down a vertical ladder inside the turbine using a harness.  

SC Slack said the idea behind training did not involve a fire scenario because in the event of a blaze, a firefighter would not be sent into a wind turbine because it was considered an ‘extreme danger zone’ due to the high voltage electrics and the structure itself.

Possible scenarios looked at included what would happen if CFRS was called upon to assist with incidents such as heart attacks, trappings, or simply a broken bone when workers are in the engineer’s department at the top, 60 metres in the air.

Watch Commander Jon Crowley said the watch faced two main challenges when completing the exercise.

“The main challenge was in terms of getting up. It was an arduous, long climb in our PPE (full personal protective equipment). The other main difficulty once we were up there was it was very tight, cramped working conditions.”

The watch used E.ON’s own ‘working at height’ equipment. Using a stretcher they lowered a weighted dummy down the outside of the wind turbine.

Firefighters did, however, use their own harnesses and a scaffolding hook. They climbed the inside of the turbine using a fall arrest system to get to the top safely. This involved attaching themselves to a wire that runs up the middle of a ladder so that if anyone falls the rope snags, preventing a fall of more than a metre.

Richard Couzens, Regional Production Manager for E.ON, described the training exercise as “one of the largest scale emergency training exercise conducted in the UK for E.ON’s onshore wind farms.”

He said E.ON had invested lots of effort and training into emergency procedures for its own staff already, adding that it would only contact fire and rescue in more unusual situations such as entrapment, where their own staff were unable to free someone trapped within a turbine.

“The exercise was more about familiarising CFRS with our wind turbines and helping them to have a strategy to help them deal with emergencies. We certainly achieved everything we wanted to,” he said.

SC Slack said: “Other fire services throughout the Country are starting to look towards planning for such incidents and I feel we have made good progress early to look at what crews may be faced with if called to assist others with any rescue."

E.ON training teams and senior health and safety managers also attended along with members of CFRS’ Operational Support Group and Health and Safety.

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Photographs available from CFRS Flickr account in the news folder: http://bit.ly/CambsFireFlickr. 

For more information contact Danni Smith, Media and Communication Officer, on 01480 444558 or 07710 917393.