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Masters of disaster Yeovilton trains for worst case scenario with local emergency services

5 March 2024
What would happen if a fuel tanker crashed, spilling fuel across Britain’s biggest and busiest naval air base?…At the same time as a Merlin helicopter smashed into a neighbouring house and a line of stationary traffic, flatting half a dozen cars and a cyclist?

It sounds like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie… or the stuff of nightmares.

In fact it was the scenario played out by base and local emergency services to test the ability of all to deal with a major incident at RNAS Yeovilton.
The base can call upon its own firefighters, medics and police for any initial response… supported by civilian services: Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue, Avon and Somerset Police, South West Ambulance Service.

They grappled not merely with the two accidents – a lorry jack-knifed on the road, several cars to simulate stopped traffic and training smoke to bring the scenario to life – but also live ‘casualties’ which made a huge difference to the training, accurately capturing the chaos of a real-life incident.

“The presence of role-playing casualties enhanced the authenticity of the scene,” said Yeovilton’s fire station manager Chief Petty Officer Tom Meechan.

“Injuries suffered ranged from burns and fractures to smoke inhalation, necessitating the evacuation of some individuals using specialised equipment.”

Every element of Yeovilton’s first responders benefited from some aspect of the exercise:
From the firefighters: “The exercise proved to be exceptional, offering a multitude of valuable insights which we can enhance through future training sessions alongside the local authorities,” said Chief Petty Officer Meechan.

From the RN Police: “It was useful to practise communications with Avon and Somerset Police in real time and demonstrate likely response times to a major incident,” said Master-at-Arms Chief Petty Officer James Connolly.

From the medics: “The exercise was incredibly valuable and provided an insight in how major incidents play out on the ground in a way that cannot be taught in any other way or any other environment,” said Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Robert Strachan.

And: “Working alongside civilian practitioners significantly enhanced my understanding of South Western Ambulance Support Trust’s procedures, allowing me to prepare for any mass casualty situations in the future,” said Medical Assistant Able Rating Abigail Barford. “It was an extremely enlightening experience which has vastly improved my clinical competence and understanding of major incidents.”

Away from the immediate ‘coalface’, a command team helped orchestrate the response to the twin accidents from the Incident Control Point, providing essential support to personnel on the ground.

Senior air station personnel say valuable lessons were learned from the exercise – which had been nearly a year in the planning – and will be incorporated into future contingency plans for dealing with worst-case scenarios.

Yeovilton’s First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Adam Seaborn, said the involvement of civilian services – and the ability to both communicate seamlessly and work side-by-side with them was crucial to a real-life response.

“Under major accident crash regulations, any major incident requires the coordination of multiple activities – both at the incident site and in the command centre,” Lt Cdr Seaborn explained.

“Being able to do this exercise with the civilian emergency services has made it as realistic as possible, and we will capture the lessons from it.”

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