Essex crews working round the clock in the wet and humid aftermath of the Indonesian earthquake, have spoken today about the devastation they have witnessed.
The seven-strong team of rescue experts, along with Darcy the rescue dog, flew out from RAF Brize Norton in the early hours of Saturday morning and immediately set to work.
Station Officer Terry Webb said: “The earthquakes have caused widespread destruction. In the cities the damage is very sporadic – some buildings appear untouched while others have been completely flattened.
“But in the outlying areas around the cities there has been complete devastation.
“We went to an area where a mudslide had completely covered three villages and buried around 600 people. We put the dog on the area and did a ground search but no one had survived the mud slide, they didn’t stand a chance.
“As soon as we got here, we were attached to the Australian rescue team and basically we hit the ground running. There was so much that needed to be done that the entire team, we got started straight away. It’s been tough – it’s hot and humid with extremely heavy rains as the monsoon season begins but there’s too much to be done to worry about it.
“The search and rescue operation is coming to an end with hopes of finding anyone buried and alive now quite remote. So now the humanitarian phase of the international effort is beginning.
“We will now assist with this work, distributing clean water and food, blankets and the like. We also hope to help clear out a school which has been left in a terrible state by the mud slides.
“Seeing how the locals have reacted has been a very humbling. Despite the death and destruction of their families and homes and the suffering, they have show real inner strength and resilience through it all.”
The team travelled with with colleagues from other fire and rescue services as part of a 65-strong contingent of rescue experts from UK ISAR (International Search and Rescue). It is the first time Darcy, Essex’ rescue dog, has been flown out to a disaster zone to put her training into real-life operation.
Station Officer Webb added: “The team has trained for these eventualities and we are happy to be able to put our skills and specialisms into practice helping people who are in dire need.”
ECFRS’ Urban Search and Rescue team is one of 20 set up nationwide as part of the Government’s New Dimensions programme, aimed at providing the UK fire and rescue service with the capability to respond to a variety of different incidents including: chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) events, search and rescue scenarios, major flooding and transport incidents.
The team is based in a purpose built base in Lexden, Colchester, but come from all over Essex including Colchester, Harwich, Southend, Harlow and Ipswich. They are trained to used specialist equipment which allows them to search for survivors in the wreckage of collapsed buildings following terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
USAR capability includes kit to lift, cut and remove concrete and rubble from collapsed structures along with sophisticated equipment for finding casualties, including special cameras and listening devices.
The tools they use can penetrate reinforced concrete and metal to gain access to casualties and the use of shoring equipment allows team members to maintain a safe working position during rescues.
While in Indonesia, the USAR teams will use a central UK cache of equipment.
The team is expected to be in Indonesia until later this week. A press conference will be held at ECFRS’ Kelvedon Park headquarters on their return.