Firefighters in Aberdeen are now qualified to save lives in water after expert training.
Staff at Aberdeen Central Fire Station have spent the last two years learning how to rescue casualties from rivers, flooded areas, mud and ice and are now ready to respond to real-life rescues across the north-east.
The training programme was launched in the aftermath of Storm Frank, which brought havoc to the region as more than 10cm of rain fell in just 24 hours and dozens of people had to be evacuated from their flooded homes.
Now when 999 calls relating to water come in, a six-strong team can spring into action equipped in water-resistant kit.
They can also deploy specialist inflatable rescue paths, which they spread over icy areas to form a safe walkway for people to get to safety.
The Evening Express joined the team on one of its training exercises at Aberdeen Boat Club on the banks of the River Dee.
Teams of between three and six firefighters took to a dinghy and one jumped out and floated in the water to simulate a water rescue.
His colleagues then worked together to reach the ‘casualty’ before pulling him into the boat, ready to be taken ashore.
Crew manager John Daniels, who is based at Aberdeen Central Fire Station, said: “With this training and this equipment, if we’re ever faced with anything like Storm Frank, we’ll be able to react better and get there quicker to help vulnerable folk in the community.
“We’ve been building up for today over the last couple of years during our training.
“The perception of firefighters among the general public can sometimes be that we are there to fight fires, but we also perform a wide range of other duties, such as cutting people out of vehicles at road traffic collisions, providing CPR at other emergencies and in rescues like this.
“This training not only varies our skills but also allows us to better serve the community by helping someone if they go into the water and get into difficulty.”
He added: “In these situations, every second counts.
“Before now, we might have had to wait for water rescue capability resources to come from elsewhere.
“It now means we can respond a lot quicker to these incidents.”
Such resources include the Coastguard and RNLI volunteer crews.
“There is a lot of adrenalin as we’re operating in fast-moving water,” added Mr Daniels.
“We do our training in various locations throughout the north-east – including Tamdhu by the River Spey, the River Dee and the River Don – to experience different kinds of water and to gain trust in the kit.
“All of us now feel confident going out in the water, knowing the kit will work for us. We keep on top of the training, knowing that one day, we’ll have to go out there for real to save people’s lives.”
Scottish Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing, who was in Aberdeen yesterday to launch the water rescue capability, said: “I am really delighted to be launching this.
“It is a fantastic addition to the fire service locally in terms of what they will be able to do for the people of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, especially taking into account the recent history of severe weather and flooding such as that we saw with Storm Frank in 2015.
“Having talked to the firefighters who will be doing this work, it is quite clear that they are very excited to be able to offer this service.
“They have worked very hard to get to this stage.”
Lewis Ramsay, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service director of response and resilience, said: “We have got 20 rescue stations across Scotland – many of them in the north.
“That has been chosen deliberately because of the number of waterways there are in the area.
“If people fall into difficulty in water, we want to mobilise quickly to rescue them.
“These guys are equipped to deal with mud, ice and unstable ground and we feel we’ve got a good rounded rescue attribute.
“We feel it is entirely appropriate that we look to the city of Aberdeen and to enhance its capability and capacity.
“As people saw during Storm Frank, there is really nothing more horrible than having to see somebody with their life’s possessions ruined by flood.
“It is often impossible to defeat nature, but we have to do something, and this is another important tool in our armoury.”