Fire crews tie up new rope rescue training HQ

Jen Lavery tries her hand at abseilling. Picture: Greg Macvean
Jen Lavery tries her hand at abseilling. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A NEW £500,000 training centre teaching firefighters “urban mountain rescue” has opened in the Capital.

The purpose-built National Rope Rescue Training Centre, based at Newcraighall fire station, will train crews from across Scotland.

It boasts facilities which can recreate many of the tricky environments firefighters may find themselves called to, including the top of a crane, the inside of a sewer pipe, a lift or mine shaft, or a collapsed structure.

The centre already serves as a base for specialist rope rescue teams, who have a wealth of experience in difficult and unusual rescue scenarios thanks to landmarks such as Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle and Salisbury Crags.

It will now be used to deliver standardised training in all forms of rope rescue techniques and specialist extrication skills to teams across Scotland.

Centre manager Steven Young said: “Given that we rescue roughly 25 people a year from places like Arthur’s Seat and the Crags, and are mobilised to monitor many more situations, we know better than most that there are some places you just can’t reach with a
ladder.

“We do a lot of what might be called ‘urban mountain rescue’ and this centre can be used to simulate pretty much anything we might come up against. The equipment we use these days is second to none, about as close to being perfect as it has ever been.

“We are also looking into rescue techniques we may need to develop in future, for example, if we were called out to an incident involving a wind turbine.”

Firefighters will be able to develop their search and rescue skills, including accessing casualties trapped in collapsed structures, using thermal imaging cameras, heavy rigs for breaking large holes in concrete structures and shoring techniques.

Convener of Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service Board Mike Bridgman said: “Firefighters from the Lothian and Borders area have a long and proud history of using these specialist skills, rescuing people from city landmarks.

“Over the years, their skills have been tested and their experience has grown. The new centre will ensure that rope rescue instructors can pass on that excellent level of knowledge, ability and training to ensure crews can respond to a wide array of challenging incidents with confidence.”

The centre was built in response to recommendations in the report into the death of Alison Hume in 2008. The mother-of-two, who had suffered “survivable injuries” after falling 14 metres into a disused mine shaft, died after Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service failed to act quickly enough.

Believe me . . the hardest part is letting go

When my boss told me someone was needed to try out the new Rope Rescue Training Centre, I jumped at the chance. I go climbing – it’s not that different, right?

Actually, wrong Jen, WRONG. Climbing generally involves something to hold on to, not stepping out into mid-air.

But by the time I was in my hard hat and harness, staring at an eight-metre drop, it was too late to back out.

As is true with so many things, the hardest part is letting go.

As soon as the firefighters prised my hands off the side of the walkway, I have to admit I felt pretty secure, even holding up the sign for their weekly “Test it Tuesday” tweet.

And they promise to come back and let me down any minute . . .