Shropshire firefighters donned special air tight chemical protection suits to tackle a reported ammonia leak during a large scale training exercise at a major food storage and distribution depot.
The planned exercise was at Grocontinental’s compound in Whitchurch Business Park – one of the largest freezer stores in Europe and a major Shropshire employer with 300 staff.
With 120,000 palletts stacked to the roof with food from across the world, the 25 acre site was a realistic training venue for more than 50 firefighters from five county fire stations during last night’s exercise (Thursday).
Firefighting colleagues from Malpas in Cheshire were also involved in the alert which thoroughly tested all their skills at handling a serious chemical incident.
The firm’s health and safety manager John Whelan said: “This is an exercise to prepare us in the unlikely event of something happening to test our emergency procedures. It is highly unlikely to happen because the plant is well maintained but we have to be prepared.”
Retained firefighters from Whitchurch wearing breathing apparatus were first on the scene to “rescue” two workers overcome by fumes and alert their colleagues to the type of toxic chemical they would have to deal with.
Wearing specialist green chemical protection suits, firefighters isolated the “leak” followed by a full decontamination exercise as incident commanders and control room staff at Shrewsbury brigade HQ tested their communication and command skills.
Crews from Whitchurch, Prees, Newport, Wellington, Tweedale and Malpas along with the Incident Command Unit from Shrewsbury all responded to the alert at around 7pm.
First on the scene was Whitchurch postman Simon Griffiths, crew manager at Whitchurch fire station and a retained firefighter for 32 years, who was initially in charge as incident commander.
“We never know what we are going to be called to. It could be something simple or a serious ammonia leak. Whatever it is, we have to be ready and these training exercises are preparing us for the real thing.”
Shropshire firefighters train with fellow firefighters from neighbouring brigades to be prepared for such incidents which need cross border support.
The Whitchurch exercise was designed to test firefighters in their response to hazardous materials, rescuing casualties, communications, incident command and inter agency liaison.
“It is vitally important that we hold a number of major training exercises each year to test the skills of all our firefighters and we are very grateful to employers such as Grocontinental for helping us,” said exercise organiser Mark Smith, a Retained Support Officer with Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Recognised as one of the best brigade’s in the UK, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service has many of its firefighting force being retained firefighters who have other day jobs. They train regularly and are ready to answer any emergency call.