Fire and Rescue, UK style

My EMS adventures in Newcastle upon Tyne had come to an end and I had but one full day left in England.  Swalwell Station Manager Peter Mudie has arranged for me and Mark to take a bit of a tour of the capabilities of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, so we’re up early and he’s taken us for a road safety class.

Not for me, thank goodness, but for a group of young drivers to impress upon them the importance of not drinking and driving.

Many of us have been to these presentations before.  A middle aged expert prepares what to them appears to be a hip multi-media presentation and the attendees seem less than interested.  I was the same way at 16, we all were.

Enter the Happy Medic and UKMedic999 and the class is now wondering what just happened.

The presentation was actually one of the best I’ve seen including some racy videos that in the end have a message about driving safely.  The kids were really paying attention then.  Mark and I had a chance to impress upon the gathered youth the importance of seat belts and driving safely. I think my “accent” kept their attention more than my content.

Even the locals were cold. Mrs HM knit me two hats, so I shared.

Then it was off to the yard behind the station for an extrication drill to show the new drivers what happens when cars collide.

Set up down the hill were two cars and two students were chosen to be the victims.

To say it was “balls cold”, as one student put it, would be an understatement.  I’m a 6th generation Californian, 50 is cold for me.  This yard was cold.  Wind blowing, snow falling and me with no gloves.

The kids watched as their friends shivered in the cold while the fire appliances pulled up and began their task.  I mentioned in passing to the instructor that I would have let the kids go back inside and he suddenly had a point to make to the youth suddenly more interested in each other than the hydraulic tools freeing their friends.

“AYE!” He shouted to the huddled, hooded forms, “You’re here wearing your coats and gloves, hats and whatnot, but what if you were heading back from your mate’s place and were wearing only a shirt and crashed?” He was moving around in front of them, almost pacing like a drill sergeant, “Laying in the snow, cold, tired and hurt?  You wouldn’t last very long would you?”

He had their attention the rest of the morning.

The extrication was straight forward with the only difference being the use of the smaller ladders to brace the car on it’s side.

After a lunch cooked by the station’s french chef (Yes, the chef is not a firefighter) it was off to Tyne and Wear Fire Headquarters.

What an impressive building and training ground they have!

A grand foyer greets the visitor and many small groups of men are sitting in plain clothes discussing this and that.  One of them, the only one wearing a shirt and tie sees my SFFD Firefighter/Paramedic jacket and does a double take.

As I surveyed the enormous complex I would assume candidates are intimidated when they enter to get their employment packets.  Peter led Mark and I on a brief tour of the lower level and the man in the tie wandered over and said hello.  Just a casual greeting, he seemed like a regular guy in a sea of white embroidered uniforms and street clothes.

Chief Bathgate, Yours Truly, Peter Mudie

The man in the tie wandering the lobby is none other than Iain Bathgate – Chief Fire Officer for Tyne and Wear.

blink. blink.

He offered a hand and I shook it.  There I was in my uniform shirt, but buried under a sweatshirt and a jacket.  Had I known I was going to meet the Chief I would have at least donned my cap and tie to show respect.

Turns out he was more interested in the back of my jacket than what wasn’t around my neck.

“You do both then?” he asked me.

“Not often at once, but yes, I am proficient in both skills” I replied, wondering if I should go into further explanation.  As we spoke the other men were taking interest in the fellow with two titles on his jacket their Chief was talking to.  He immediately suggested a tour of the training grounds, something his face glowed about, he was proud of it.

Through the main lobby and out another set of large glass doors was their training facility, easily 5 acres and including a wide variety of props.

11towerThere was a standard training tower that, since once at the top one could peer over to the automobile manufacturer test track next door, was rotated and modified to keep wandering eyes away.

11highangle

Next to that was a high voltage power line tower prop for high angle rope drills.  Under construction nearby was a large two story collapse house that can be dropped and rebuilt quickly to simulate rescues.

A number of burn buildings stood ready for recruits and in service crews alike, one of which was in service when we visited.

But the piece of equipment that caught my eye as special was their train rig.  Over behind the airplane prop and the piles of wood was a full size train car half in a man made tunnel. 11tunnelI wish we had one.

Half way through my tour, Mr Bathgate dismissed himself and went back to running what appeared to be a well funded and well respected organization.

Mark, Peter and I finished the tour and the Department had a photographer come down and snap a few pictures of us in front of some of the appliances.  then a few minutes later she rushed out with a stack of nice photos for me and Mark to remember our visit.

The only comments Mr Bathgate made regarding the wording on my jacket was, “Oh, we’ll not be doing that here” which is something I’m not unused to hearing from the Big Red Machine.

Same System, Different Country.

I’ve got a few more posts worth of observations and anecdotes that I’ll be saving until after the Chronicles of EMS premiere on February 12th.

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