A THREE-STOREY college building collapse trapping 40 casualties was the scenario of one of the largest emergency training exercises ever conducted in the country.
Fire crews from Huddersfield – with no prior warning of the scenario – received a call to Kirklees College after reports of an explosion at 4pm on Monday.
Realistic "casualties" lay trapped in the rubble as West Yorkshire Fire Service called in other services to assist in their efforts.
Brian Robinson, from West Yorkshire Fire Service, told the Examiner at the scene: "The fire service responded to a 999 call to reports of an explosion at Kirklees College.
"When they arrived they were confronted with chaos. There was a car which they came across first which had a large concrete block in it with two people trapped inside.
"They had another casualty who had fallen down a fire escape trying to flee the explosion and there was obviously the remaining devastation from the collapsed building.
"It was then a case of building up a picture of what happened and recognising that there were over 40 people trapped.
"The building has effectively ‘pancaked’, it has fallen three floors. Basically all the floors have compacted and the roof is now around two feet from the ground.
"Inside the building was set up as student accommodation so initially we had to isolate the utilities and try and identify any potential hazards.
"Because the building was so well protected from burglars a lot of work went on to open the roof sky light to gain entry.
"We then made entry via the roof to set up a series of tunnels to make the building safe for us to enter and extract casualties.
"We have used all our skills and equipment such as hot cutting, line rescue and specialist cameras to assist with the situation.
"We have also called in resources from across the country as well as our own crews and Hazard Area Response Team from Yorkshire Ambulance Service."
Ben Savage was one of the casualties trapped in the car.
He said: "We were sitting in the car then there was a loud explosion.
"The bang was deafening, I’ve never heard anything that loud before.
"Everything was a blur. I woke up and it was dark then a man shone a torch in my eyes."
Speaking of taking part in the exercise he added: "It was a chance for the emergency services to test their skills and it was surreal to experience it. I just hope I never have to be in a real situation like that."
Fellow casualty Josh Holmes was unconscious in the scenario.
He said: "I was in the front of the car and had a large head injury. I could hear voices and sirens.
"Ben managed to give the crews my details as I was drifting in and out of consciousness. It was so cold, I just wanted to get out of there.
"When I came out I was just shell shocked. There was dust everywhere."
Andrew Smith of Hazard Area Response Team overseeing the exercise, said: "We have been working with the fire service, essentially they construct a path so we can enter and administer pain relief and assess the casualties."
PLANNING for the ‘building collapse’ scenario took six months to ensure the conditions were as life-like as possible.
Exercise ‘Winter Palace’ involved creating a complex series of tunnels in the large basement of the college.
The structure was designed to resemble a series of corridors, bedrooms and communal areas which were barely recognisable due to the extent of the damage.
College volunteers and Kirklees Building Services staff assisted in creating the scenario and acting as casualties.
Brian Robson, of West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “A great deal of time and effort has gone into ensuring exercise Winter Palace is as realistic as possible.
“This is the longest exercise we have ever conducted across two nights and three days.
“We have been given assistance by crews from Merseyside, the North West, London and Tyne and Wear as well as other agencies which also tests how we work together.
“We also need to test our contingency plans for ensuring our 999 service is not affected in the event of a large-scale incident such as this and so far we are pleased with how we have responded.
“It is tough conditions, but they have all put their all into it.”
He also thanked Kirklees College for the use of their premises and Kirklees Building Services for their support and Marshalls and K Steels for providing materials free of charge.
Operation at a glance
Conducted by West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and run across two nights and three days, the exercise involved fire crews from across the country.
30 tonnes of heavy materials and timber together with lengths of steel were used to create a series of narrow passages to simulate a building collapse.
The various collapsed rooms and passages were spread over 40m by 20m.
Safety cells, observer sections and emergency lighting were set up to ensure safety.
Urban Search and Rescue and Hazardous Area Rescue Team crews work in confined spaces to a minimum of 40cm high.