Fire & Flood!

In December I attended a three-day residential course all about planning and dealing with emergency situations. I had heard about this course when I was a LTV at Powis and it sounded really interesting and quite exciting so I was hoping to be able to attend it. Happily enough this year my wish came true!

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The course focuses on creating an Emergency Salvage Plan for historic properties and heritage sites should something happen like a fire or a flood. We did a bit of knot tying, which took me back to my Scouting days, learnt about the different roles people would need to play in an emergency situation, had talks from the emergency services.

We were also taken through several practical exercises ,and newsflash, if your property floods you are going to get soggy shoes – at the very least!! The training was based in West Brom at a Fire Services Academy, complete with working ‘hot house’ which can be set to simulate a real fire situation.

Image from bbc.co.uk

On the first day we got to wear the full protective outfit and breathing apparatus that Fire Fighters wear in real situations. Wearing all this we went into the training house when it was full of smoke. It was so disorienting walking through rooms we had never been in before in almost total dark whilst being totally cut off from our surroundings by the protective clothing we were wearing.

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I have such a huge respect for Fire Fighters and how they do their jobs under such incredibly difficult conditions! The Fire Fighters that were training us were very helpful, I felt all fingers and thumbs in the protective clothing but they helped us to kit up and made sure all our breathing apparatus was working.

The session I think will come in most useful for me was the objects first aid session. We were taught all about the most effective way to dry out wet items, to clean them if they can covered in soot or ash. It is much more likely that I would have to deal with drying out objects, with flooding potential from burst pipes or leaking roofs. Objects rescued from a fire situation would also most likely be wet from the fire services attempt to put out the fire.

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Because of all of these reasons we were shown ways to turn every day objects into drying stations and wind tunnels. In a serious disaster where many objects were damp some could be frozen. This would keep them in stasis until you had the capacity to defrost and deal with drying them out. Space is very quickly taken up when drying out objects so freezing things may be the only option. I could see the situation quickly becoming too enormous a task to handle otherwise.

The practical scenario was a real eye opener, seeing just how quickly 20 people suddenly turned into there being no one around. Everyone got so busy so quickly! I was in charge of communication and welfare and spend the exercise running around making sure everyone was ok, that they had a break, that messages were getting passed on and no one was getting too stressed or cold.

The fire service did an amazing job in listening to what we needed, and getting the priority items out of the building. Then the salvage team were able to go in with the fire fighters after they had checked the building. Very quickly objects were coming out thick and fast and the team doing the first aid had their work cut out for them.

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Documenting the objects was particularly challenging, especially as we didn’t know the collection which would obviously be different in our own properties. As the objects were coming out so quickly we often didn’t get chance to ask which rooms they came from, or if we did we lost track. This did cause a bit of an issue, but one that could be solved after the fact when all the objects were in the salvage area.

The exercise worked very well in showing us what the pit falls and challenges of a scenario could be, so we can try to be prepared. The course also made me see how well prepared Hardwick is, we have a very comprehensive Emergency Salvage Plan and carry out regular exercises with the local fire brigade. We are having a salvage exercise at Hardwick next month which I am very grateful for as I will get the opportunity to see Hardwick’s plan in action! Whilst I do now feel quite prepared should the worst happen, but it also makes me pray that I never need to put this particular training course into action!

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