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Firefighters' water training at London Olympic venue

Cambridgeshire firefighters are gaining ‘invaluable’ water rescue skills at a white-water slalom centre which hosted the canoe slalom events of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Training at the Lee Valley White Water Centre in London uses the white-water slalom course, where fire service instructors can control water flow to create different hydraulic water features similar to those firefighters might experience in rivers or in a flooded street.

Over 200 wholetime firefighters from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS), already trained to wade and swim in water as well as to use an inflatable rescue sled to go out onto the water, will benefit from the training which will continue to the end of this year.

Crews are put through their paces carrying out a number of different scenarios including rescuing a casualty stuck on top of a car roof whilst the water is flowing fast, up and around the windows, as well rescuing a casualty from inside a water-logged car. The course also allows them to practise different swimming and wading techniques, entering the water in different formations depending on the current and other conditions.

Watch Commander Jason Carbis, from Training Centre in Huntingdon is an instructor on the course, working with Team Leader Ed Miller, also from Training Centre.

“Our in-water crews are extremely well trained in dealing with all types of water incidents and the benefit of using the Lee Valley site is that it provides us with a training venue to enhance those skills safe in the knowledge that we are training in a safe and controlled environment. It is as realistic as possible. All of the training is risk-assessed and safe and if we need to, we can empty the course in under two minutes.

“The training has been invaluable. The experience crews will get, allowing them to drill in fast-flowing water that gives them every hazard they are ever going to encounter, you can’t put a value on it.”

Crews work with a family saloon car submerged in water to the top of the car doors. The car is anchored to the course floor to represent a car that is stuck in water but not floating.

Area Commander Maurice Moore, from CFRS, said: “Having investigated some previous events I am well aware of the dangers involved in water rescue. This improvement in training is a vital step in improving the health and safety of our crews when working in this potentially dangerous environment and I am grateful to the Training Centre for organising this.”

Other Fire Services to use the course include Essex, Hertfordshire, London, Bedfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.

Hannah Burgess, Corporate Customer Services Advisor for the Lee Valley White Water Centre, said: “Lee Valley is an excellent training venue due to the high standard of facilities.

“Filtered water and a system that can be adapted to different training scenarios allows a large variety of training courses to take place here e.g. from swift water rescue training all the way through to a vehicle in water rescue. The white water at Lee Valley allows skill practice in a controlled environment so that the instructors are well rehearsed when they are in a real environment.

“We are proud to be able to help local and national services with their training and we hope to continue a good working relationship with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.”