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Island’s search and rescue capability praised 27 June 2008

Fire Service Hill Rescue TeamTHE Isle of Man’s search and rescue capability has been praised by a leading authority in the location of missing persons.

Tony Emsley visited the Island this week to assess a Douglas firefighter in the final phase of his development training course. Mr Emsley boasts a lifetime’s experience in the field having worked with the RAF’s search and rescue unit for 23 years. For the past 13 years he has held a senior role at Outreach Rescue – a UK company that delivers specialist training for firefighters.

During his recent visit, the North Wales-based training manager said he was impressed with the Island’s multi-agency approach when responding to missing person call-outs. He also praised the strong working relationship that exists between the IoM Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Service, Civil Defence Unit, Coastguard and Search and Rescue Dog Association.

Mr Emsley said: ‘The set-up in the Island is very good and the levels of co-operation and trust between the agencies is a key factor when it comes to ensuring community safety’.

Officers and volunteers from these different organisations can be called upon to pool their personnel, assets and expertise to deal with certain emergency situations. When a person is reported missing in the Island a call is placed with the IoM Constabulary by an operator at the Emergency Services Joint Control Room in Douglas. The police force’s duty search adviser will then risk-assess the situation before deciding what resources to mobilise in terms of personnel and equipment.

Preliminary investigations and door-to-door enquiries help to determine a starting location for the search. However, the situation can change rapidly as new information comes to light from eye-witnesses or through media appeals. If back-up is required the police will call in officers from the IoM Fire and Rescue Service who are also trained to carry out urban and hill searches.

The operation can be expanded further to include Civil Defence volunteers, the Coastguard or mountain rescue dogs if required. The Island also has strong links with UK military and Sea King helicopters can be scrambled from RAF Valley in the event of a large-scale incident.

Brian Draper GIFireE - Chief Fire Officer Because of the rural nature of the Isle of Man and the remoteness of some of its glens, coastal footpaths, plantations and upland areas, particular emphasis is placed on hill searches. Firefighters undergo specialist training in this regard, with a five-day theory-based workshop at Outreach Rescue’s headquarters in Bangor followed by academic course work and a practical assessment.

As part of his trip to the Island, Mr Emsley conducted a real-time evaluation of Leading Firefighter Peter Killey whose scenario revolved around locating a 47-year-old man reported missing from his home in Foxdale. Information gathered during the initial enquiries – including physical description, brief medical history and character traits – were used to build up a profile of the person in question.

Other factors such as the circumstances leading up to the disappearance, the man’s state of mind and his favourite places to visit were then taken into account in order to focus attention on a specific area. Through training exercises and experience of real life incidents, Fire Service personnel have developed and honed their techniques in recent years, applying a scientific and fact-based approach to help narrow the search.

Leading firefighter Killey was able to put that knowledge into practice as he worked alongside the search commander from the Police, PC Kevin Williams, to co-ordinate the hunt for the missing man. Further information was drip-fed into the scenario to test the fire officer’s response to a dynamic and ever-changing situation.

Strategic planning, leadership qualities, communication skills and the ability to work under pressure were all closely monitored as part of the assessment. The fictitious incident was eventually brought to a successful conclusion as the search teams located the Fire Service dummy used to represent the missing person.

Martyn Quayle MHK, Minister for Home AffairsChief Fire Officer Brian Draper said:

‘The modern day firefighter is required to carry out a number of specialist roles and the hill search team is an important part of our overall function. Officers who gain official accreditation in this particular discipline are re-assessed every three years to maintain a high level of community safety in the Island.’

Minister for Home Affairs Martyn Quayle MHK added:

‘The response to certain emergency call-outs can involve a number of different teams from within the Department. The tremendous courage, commitment and professionalism displayed by our officers and volunteers – often while working under difficult and highly pressurised circumstances – should be a source of great comfort to members of the public.’

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