Urban Search & Rescue Facility Opens

The UK's first purpose-built Urban Search and Rescue facility officially opens today (Friday) at Lexden, Colchester.

Following the events of 9/11 in September 2001, the Government introduced its New Dimensions programme and an investment of more than 200m to enhance the UK Fire Service's ability to respond to catastrophic incidents. Urban Search and Rescue is one of the function of this enhanced capability.

As part of the national USAR project, Essex was identified as one of 17 strategically suitable Services to host the capability, designed to ensure there are trained personnel and resources to respond to major incidents nationwide. ECFRS has had a specialist team - UKFSSART (UK Fire Service Search & Rescue Team) - for the last 10 years and has sent crews overseas to assist in major disasters such as earthquakes in the past. The county has been providing an interim USAR capability to serve the region for the past two years.

The operational facility at Lexden will be used exclusively by USAR crews, including Darcy, a specially trained search and rescue dog. It represents an investment of more than 1m and has been built from scratch on ground adjoining ECFRS' current Service Workshop facility in London Road.

Colchester MP Bob Russell, Dave Dickson, Deputy USAR Manager for the Government's New Dimensions programme, local councillors and representatives from Essex Police and Ambulance attended the day's event, along with members of Essex Fire Authority, ECFRS' Senior Management Board and representatives from other FRSs.

The event was hosted by Assistant Chief Fire Officer Gordon Hunter, Director, Civil Resilience and the official opening ceremony was conducted by Chairman of Essex Fire Authority Councillor Simon Walsh and Chief Fire Officer David Johnson. USAR Manager Rudy Jackson and his team put on a range of displays to show the diverse capability of the newly-acquired USAR equipment and the skills of the crew.