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Fire Brigade arrives at Mill Gardens - to practice!

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Fire Brigade arrives at Mill Gardens - to practice!


Published by Tracey Errington for Eden Housing Association Limited in Housing and also in Communities

Fire crews attend Eden Housing Association extra care scheme for drill Fire crews attend Eden Housing Association extra care scheme for drill

 Fire – call out of Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service at Mill Gardens for drill

Eden Housing Association’s (EHA) Mill Gardens Sheltered Accommodation scheme in Kirkby Stephen attracted the attention of the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service last week as eight appliances and over fifty fire fighters attended to carry out a unique fire drill.

The scheme is due to be demolished to make way for a new extra care scheme (once planning permission is granted) so Sarah Bowman, Community Development Officer at EHA offered the redundant building to the Kirkby Stephen team of the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service for drills.

The chance to practice evacuating a scheme for older people was eagerly grasped by Tony Harrison the supervisory Watch Manager for Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Shap Fire Stations, he began co-ordinating a call out that would use the services of Fire Brigades from Cumbria, Yorkshire and Durham as well as support from Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue team who acted as ‘walking wounded residents’.

Tony said “it’s rare to be able to work with three counties, but it could be a reality. Procedures differ slightly across our county borders so it was very useful to see how our inter-operability worked. We were able to create a realistic scenario for personnel using breathing apparatus and pumping water from the River Eden close by and were challenged in maintaining effective control and communications across such a large number of personnel. There were crews from Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, Kendal, Shap, Barnard Castle, Reeth and Hawes stations, plus additional observers from Richmond and Barnard Castle.”

Testing the fire fighters, the upstairs rooms were filled with smoke and a member of the team acted as “warden” informing the Incident Commander where the ‘fire’ was located. Real weight training dummies were used in the smoke filled upstairs rooms and walking wounded were located downstairs.

Acting as ‘walking casualties’, four members of Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Service were rescued from the ground floor. Kath Dyer, Deputy Leader said “When they come in with breathing apparatus you can hear them searching the room in a set way. It was a little disconcerting, but also reassuring because they worked the room to make sure every area was covered and no one was missed. We have members of our team who are also fire fighters – they had a busy night!”

Sarah Bowman form Eden Housing Association worked with the Cumbria Fire and Rescue Services to stage the drill and was able to observe the whole event. Sarah said “When we filled upstairs with smoke it felt very real, it is easy to see how disorientating smoke can be and this becomes an even greater problem when working with older residents. We were very aware of an incident in Scotland where 14 residents of a care home lost their lives, so being able to stage something like this is invaluable.

We only told those local residents that would be directly affected by the activity so they weren’t too alarmed when so many fire engines turned up, and on the whole, the event was kept as low key as possible. As with any incident, word spread quickly and has been a real talking point. The community seemed pleased that we are making the most of the building before it is demolished.”

At the end of the drill Philip Cooper, Crew Commander at Kirkby Stephen carried out their ‘hot debrief’ discussing the activity with all the fire fighters, observers and operation controllers. He said “There were some really great pressures – especially with so many appliances turning up at once and condensing the drill into such a short time. The cross border operation worked well and we identified ways we could change or improve things in similar situations.”

The team from Kirkby Stephen may have a further opportunity to practice at Mill Gardens, but another drill on this scale is not planned.   

For details of the new development plans at the Mill Gardens scheme please contact Rebecca Field on 01768 861400 or visit



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