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Fire service trains with new search and rescue helicopter

Fire service personnel with one of the new search and rescue helicopters.
Fire service personnel with one of the new search and rescue helicopters.

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has taken part in training exercises based on new search and rescue (SAR) arrangements for Holy Island.

The fire service, working alongside HM Coastguard, will respond to future incidents on and around Holy Island under a new national framework using a helicopter fitted with the latest SAR technology.

It follows the UK's switch to a civilian SAR service, operated by US-owned firm Bristow Helicopters Ltd, under the auspices of HM Coastguard, which has taken over from RAF and Royal Navy crews such as 202 Squadron at RAF Boulmer. The company was awarded the 10-year UK contract by the Department for Transport in March 2013 and will deliver the service from ten bases ‘strategically located close to areas of high SAR incident rates’.

The SAR helicopter is one of a range of options available when an incident occurs on Holy Island and the causeway is not usable. Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service can also call upon the RNLI to attend incidents via boat.

Officers completed the sessions to familiarise themselves with the new helicopter, took part in safety training and carried out a run-through of a mock operation.

For 37 years, the coastal SAR response in Northumberland was managed and delivered by RAF Boulmer’s two Sea King helicopters. However due to the changes, which came into full effect on January 1 this year, the provision for operations in the area will now be from new bases in Humberside and Prestwick, Scotland.

Alex Bennett, chief fire officer at Northumberland Fire and Rescue, said: "The training sessions have identified opportunities for sharing best practice and learning for all parties involved.

"We are aware that there have been concerns raised about the changes to the search and rescue response, and we will continue to work with all involved to ensure there is a robust protocol in place when search and rescue operations are required on Holy Island."

"I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Holy Island Parish Council for their continued commitment in providing volunteers, who are able to offer their help in the initial stages of an incident, which is a crucial period before the new helicopter arrives at the scene."

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council with responsibility for Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, said: "I am pleased to see that all emergency services involved are taking a proactive approach in adapting to the new framework and technology.

"The county’s fire and rescue service continues to work tirelessly to deliver vital support to all our communities. This exercise demonstrates just one aspect of the wide breadth of work the service carries out throughout Northumberland every day."