An essential service for the whole county at risk

HELPING casualties involved in serious accidents, clearing up chemical spills, rescuing members of the public from collapsed buildings, mud and flood - there seems to be very little Battle Fire Station’s Technical Rescue Unit can’t do.
Battle Fire Station, 5/3/14
Technical rescue unit SUS-140503-113430001Battle Fire Station, 5/3/14
Technical rescue unit SUS-140503-113430001
Battle Fire Station, 5/3/14 Technical rescue unit SUS-140503-113430001

The TRU contains more high-tech equipment than it can carry in one go and is regularly called out to all manner of incidents across the county.

Among the often life-saving equipment on board the appliance is specialist trench collapse equipment, a special platform to access the cabs of lorries involved in accidents and a large amount of Environment Agency equipment, which is used in incidents of chemical and oil spillages.

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Of the 346 incidents attended by Battle firefighters between January 1 and December 31 last year, 46 of these involved the TRU.

Crew commander Jon Baker said: “The variety of incidents it attends includes building collapses, land slides, water safety incidents and what we call enhanced RTCs (road traffic collisions), which involve large goods vehicles, lorries and so on.

“It has been used in the past at Rye Harbour on several occasions for people who have got stuck in the mud.

“At the beginning of February we attended an incident of a landslip at White Rock in Hastings.

“On that occasion a 97-year-old man was rescued.”

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The unit is also a regular visitor to Bexhill and in the past has attended such emergencies as vehicles crashing into buildings, multi-vehicle accidents and reports of chemical drums washing up on to the beach.

In recent months, the unit has been in action as far afield as Peacehaven and Newhaven.

In fact on the morning of this interview, Battle firefighters were fresh from attending the scene of an accident in Pevensey, where a woman sadly died after a coach and car collided on Wartling Road.

All of Battle’s nine wholetime firefighters are trained to use the TRU, which is one of just two in the whole of East Sussex - the other being 25 miles away in Lewes.

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The crews frequently undertake extra training in Norfolk and Kent, as well regularly taking part in exercises at local sites, including Bodiam Castle and the Rother Valley Railway in Robertsbridge, as well as in-house training.

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is currently consulting on plans which could see Battle Fire Station downgraded to retained status - meaning all nine wholetime posts would be lost.

And Crew Commander Baker warns that the essential TRU service could not be maintained using retained crews.

He said: “It comes down to the training commitment and what you can achieve with retained duty personnel compared to full time personnel.

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“No disrespect to the retained crews, but they have different careers and jobs as well as working for the fire and rescue service.

“It would not be viable, particularly because there is not enough hours in the day for them to achieve and maintain competency in this field.”

Local fire cover is already stretched, firefighters claim, and often some crew members will respond on their days off to crew the TRU.

And under future East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service proposals, one of the service’s two TRU’s could be under threat.

If Battle were to lose its Technical Rescue Unit, the fall out would be felt far beyond Battle, Hastings, Bexhill and Rye - the whole county would find itself far worse off.