Avon Fire & Rescue Service launches helicopter trial

Helicopter trial 1Firefighters will be taking to the air this week as part of a unique trial to find out whether a helicopter could be used by Avon Fire & Rescue Service (AF&RS) to respond to certain emergencies in the future.

From Monday 6 June AF&RS will be trialling an aircraft at a series of simulated rescue incidents in the area.

In addition to the 4,000 fires attended by crews last year, firefighters were also called to 2,500 rescue type incidents. And it is at this type of emergency that officers think a helicopter could have a cost effective and life saving impact.

A crew of four AF&RS firefighters and rescue equipment will be flown to the scene of 10 simulated emergencies across the Avon area. These will include road traffic collisions, water rescues, building collapses and fallen climbers. Once on scene the firefighters will be able to use specialist equipment to begin a rescue or render first aid.

Helicopter trial 2Avon Fire & Rescue Service’s Chief Fire Officer/Chief Executive, Kevin Pearson, is backing the project which he believes could lead to long term efficiencies and improved casualty care.

Mr Pearson said: “This year the fire and rescue service has suffered some of the most hard-hitting Government cuts. This has forced us to look at alternative ways to provide an emergency response to the public.

“I believe a helicopter could be used to get firefighters and equipment to the scene of certain emergencies more quickly than we could in road based vehicles. The trial will help us establish if a helicopter could be used as a ‘first strike’ resource, allowing crews to begin a rescue or render first aid before they are joined by colleagues in road vehicles.

“If we can get life saving skills and equipment to the scene of an emergency, such as a car accident, more quickly than ever before, it certainly improves a casualty’s chance of surviving.

“Fire and rescue is the only emergency service not to use helicopters, and fifteen years ago we couldn’t have contemplated an idea like this. However advances in technology mean rescue equipment is now lighter and more powerful. As a result I believe we can now fit enough onto a helicopter to provide an effective response.

“I would never expect helicopters to replace fire engines, but we think there is definitely a financial and operational case that an aircraft could be used to support our existing equipment and vehicles and this is what this week’s trials will determine.”

The five day trial will be carried out using a Eurocopter EC145 helicopter which, along with a crew and fuel, is being provided free of charge.

The trial, which was approved by Avon Fire Authority members in September 2010, is the first of its kind ever to take place in the UK. Although helicopters are used by fire and rescue services in Europe and the rest of the world, no UK fire and rescue service uses one. London Fire Brigade looked at using a helicopter as a means of transporting officers, but not equipment, but decided against progressing the idea.

Key facts about the air support trial:

  • Trial approved by Avon Fire Authority Members in September 2010 after a business case was presented
  • Helicopter EC145, fuel and crew, provided free of charge by Eurocopter
  • Helicopter will be based at Filton Airfield for duration of the trial
  • Ten mission profiles, including road traffic collisions, line and water rescue
  • Four firefighters on board with a pilot and crewman
  • Mission packs containing generic and specialist equipment will be loaded on to the helicopter depending on the scenario
  • Two missions a day
  • Data captured and examined throughout trial to assess operational viability of air support
  • Road-based fire appliances will also in attendance to ensure comparable data can be collected