A Knowsley tower block played host to a major training exercise this week when fire and rescue services from across the North West put their high rise procedures and interoperability to the test.
Around 100 emergency service staff, 12 fire engines and multiple support vehicles descended on the unoccupied Gaywood Green, on Broad Lane, Kirkby, on Monday 14th March as part of the exercise.
The training day involved four exercises simulating a fire in Block 3 of Gaywood Green, with actors posing as residents in need of evacuation.
Crews from Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service (MFRS), Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service, Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service and Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service all took part in the day, with each service taking a lead role in one of the exercises with the support from the other three. Crews from Cumbria Fire & Rescue also attended to support the exercise
Designed to test a number of key areas and give new firefighters the opportunity to experience a realistic fire and evacuation scenario in a high-rise building, the exercise was also a fantastic opportunity for all fire and rescue services involved to share best practice and learning. Fire Control room staff were also tested against their procedures, as well handling the 999 calls and incident ground messages, the control room had to provide fire survival guidance over the phone to the live casualties in the building who supported the exercise.
MFRS Group Manager Phil Byrne said: “While the risk of serious fire in a high rise building in Merseyside is low thanks in large part to our preventative work in the community, the Grenfell Tower tragedy is a constant reminder of what can happen when those risks become real.
“This exercise not only gave us a real opportunity to test our current procedures and national guidance – ensuring they are robust, effective and fit for future – but it also allowed us to work closely with cross border fire and rescue services and share learning and best practice.”
MFRS works closely with housing providers and local authorities to ensure the safety of those living within high rise buildings.
Gaywood Green is thought to be the only empty high rise building in the North West being used by a fire service to undertake live practice scenarios. MFRS last carried out a large scale training exercise there in July 2021, with smaller-scale exercises having taken place there on a regular basis since January 2020.
GM Byrne added: “Exercises like this are vital and we are truly grateful to Livv Housing and the local community for giving us, and our fellow north west FRSs, the opportunity to carry out a large exercise in a realistic setting. All of our staff are trained in high rise procedure on a regular basis but being able to put their skills truly to the test in such challenging and realistic scenarios is paramount to ensuring we are all best equipped and prepared to deal with such incidents.”
The exercise will be thoroughly evaluated and any learning outcomes will be shared both locally and nationally in effort to improve safety for all and hopefully reduce the possibility of future high rise fires.
Tony Cahill, Executive Director for Property at Livv Housing Group, said: “The safety and protection of our residents is of the upmost importance to us, which is why we are proud to be working in partnership with the fire services to help them prepare for high rise emergency incidents. We have been working with Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service since 2018, initially starting with smaller-scale exercises at Gaywood Green.
“As their work has grown considerably in terms of reach, where they now undertake joint exercises with surrounding fire and rescue authorities, it’s really important that officers from across the region are able to experience training in a live high rise environment. It was great to see other fire services being able to bring their teams along in considerable numbers and the series of exercises will ensure that all crews are fully prepared in the event of a major high rise incident.”
For free fire safety advice or to request a home fire safety check, call 0800 731 5958.
Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service also provides free smoke alarms for Merseyside residents aged 65 or over or those referred by partner agencies.