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Operation Fresco Diary by PO(AH) Pete Cassar.

 

Day 1.

11th July 2001

 

1500 Arrived at Altcar Camp to find Green Goddesses (GG) everywhere and what looked like soldiers running out hoses and spraying water at every opportunity. As it turned out these soldiers turned out to be RN and RAF personnel from differing specializations within their services, training to be GG crews. 

The Army were there en mass for the logistical support of both the personnel and the vehicles. Initially they seemed to be calling the shots as well as supplying all the drivers for the GGs. 

After checking in at the hastily prepared reception area we found our accommodation and to our surprise it was a sort of large port a cabin not the tents we were promised so things started to look up. 

Next job was to get into greens and get to work sorting out our Fast Response Team vehicles. These vehicles were basically a Sherpa LDV  pickup with all the equipment stored in the back under a ground sheet with six seats including the driver in the cab for us. 

The Breathing Apparatus (BA) we had where in a bit of a bad way and looked like they had been in storage for a while. That said we had lots of spares and a charging capability for the cylinders. 

Being one of the few BA servicer at the time I started going through all the faults and generally servicing them to get them up to scratch so that the lads could identify there own BA and carry out ther general checks. 

Other equipment carried included 45mm fire hoses with a fog gun. As we had no water tank on the vehicle we would have to rely on the GG's for our water but if all else failed we had a Stand Pipe, head, hydrant key and bar to get our own water.  

We also carried some specialist hydraulic cutting equipment called Clan Lucas which would be used for any Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) that we may encounter. 

Once every vehicle was checked we had a bit of time to ourselves to get something to eat and then onto the first briefings of the day. 

All the Fast Response Teams (FRT) had already been sorted out and we where all told of our relevant positions all over the Merseyside area. My team would be located in what were called Temporary Fire Stations (TFS) which were in fact Territorial Army Barracks located within the boundaries of Merseyside.  

The Headquarters was situated in the center of Liverpool This is where all the 999 calls would be intercepted by telephone operators. The calls where passed onto a team of people including the Merseyside and Defence Fire Officers to prioritise the calls and to advise on the right response. 

My team and I were to position ourselves over the Mersey to cover all the calls for the Wirral and we would be situated in Birkenhead. 

Communications would be handled by mobile phones and every senior position from Crew Chief up had a mobile phone and a long list of numbers of everyone else who had a phone. Along with the phone every team leader was issued with an agency card for fuel, A to Z map of Merseyside and a device to automatically open the barriers for the Mersey Tunnel.

Once all the briefings where finished with we, were left to our devises the lads got changed and into to town they went to have a few bears.

 


Day 2.

12th July 2001

Early start to get ready for the move to our temporary fire stations all over the Merseyside region, more briefs then total chaos as we hang around trying to get the right people in the right places using the right vehicles.

In the end I new where we had to be so my team just took the FRT and I went ahead to get us sorted in the right place before the Green Goddess crews got there.

We where situated at Chetwyde TA barracks in Oxton which is a small part of Birkenhead on the Wirral. The FRT and my crew had the whole of the Wirral as our patch. We also had four Green Goddesses but two were deployed in satellite positions in Boxborough and Heswal.

Once all the rooms had been allocated to us it was just a matter of creating the basic separation between sleeping areas and operational areas. We created an operations room with a red phone for the calls and green for admin. And that was it really all we needed now was sleep and get ready for the start of the strike the very next day at 0900.

 


Day 3.

13th July 2001

0900 This is it we are now live the FRT has been checked and checked again and then we just waited then we waited and unbelievably nothing happened. Then at about 1430 just as we were in the middle of doing a ladder drill with the GG crews they had their first shout.

As it turned out it was just some car seats that had been set on fire in the middle of a field. The GG crews that attended just put the fire out then they were back.

Then we had a pattern start to develop. Three more fires very similar all not involving life just trivial little skip and bin fires. If I did not know any different I would suspect that we where being tested.

1500 The first real shout and my first with the FRT to a kitchen fire with persons reported and all of sudden things started to feel very real. We set off with our Police Motorcyclist ahead showing us the way and clearing a path through the traffic.

As we arrived we were briefed that the old man who lived in the house had been rescued from the smoke by the next door neighbours. All we had to do was send in the BA team Bruce Don and Mark Mawdsley to find the fire, they did straight away finding the cooker that that was still on and had melted the pan handle hence the thick black smoke.

Once that was done the BA crew started ventilating to prevent smoke damage and that was it really a good job well done and we returned to our base feeling a lot better now that we had been tested and passed.

Then a real strange shout. We had information about a house fire with five persons reported so with great haste we rushed to the scene not really knowing what to expect. As we approached we saw two ambulances and I had a horrible feeling about it.

As it turned out it was just kids who had set fire to a back door gate and a person from across the road saw a smoke plume rising from the fire which from her perspective looked like it was coming from the house. When asked on the phone as to how many people were involved she said five, as it was a family of (five) who normally lived in the house.

We also had a funny shout the call was to respond to a bus crash under a bridge  potentially a very bad incident. As it turned at the message was a Bush fire not a Bus fire so we all had a good laugh.

 


Day 4.

 

14th July 2001

Another kitchen fire this one had been alight for quite a while by the time we got there as the fire had blown the double glazed widow through and the interia walls were black and charred due to the heat. The main problem we had was that we had no idea if there was anybody in there. 

I sent a Two-man team with BA  to search and nothing was found so they started tackling the fire. Once the fire was out the local area fire officer gave us a little lesson on how to search for the cause of the fire. 

This information was all new to us and was very interesting to see the thought process involved in the investigation of the cause. Another new skill that all of us are starting to learn about is the salvage operation required from us to make the property safe and to prevent any further damage.

 


Day 5.

 

15th July 2001 

Very quiet then all of a sudden its morning again, the mornings appear to be our quite time on watch we have a chance to sort out any  niggly problems with the kit. Fire extinguishers are now becoming a problem with no re-supply for three days. 

Just as we settle to a quiet watch we get a shout to a house with persons involved and off we go through the traffic chasing our Motorbike Policeman. As we pull up to the house its quite bad with a lot of smoke pouring out of the cracked and blackened double-glazed windows. 

The BA team made an entry with the Fog gun and 45mm hose. The team quickly had the fire under control.  I sent my second team in to help with the search upstairs as we still did not know if everybody was accounted for.

With the search complete next task was to vent and try to prevent the smoke damage and start the salvage operations again. The source of the fire had been the living room and this was badly burnt and considerably damaged. The rest of the property was quite badly damaged by smoke with an obvious neutral layer mark on the wall where the smoke had been hanging. 

Next shout was a bit different in that we were called to a skip fire which normally a GG would attend alone. The only snag was the skip contained a butane cylinder. Luckily enough the GG had water on it straight away so it was just a matter of us removing the cylinder from the heat and cooling it.

 


Day 6.

 

16th July 2001

A very quiet watch with not a lot happening. We did have one shout to a house fire but we got to the address and it was just a malicious call. On our way back we were despatched to a RTA on the M53 between Junction 5/6.

After we drove all the way down to the scene about a 15-minute drive we were told that it was not in our area and that Cheshire Brigade would deal with the incident.

 


  

Day 7.

 17th July 2001

Another really slow day I get the feeling that our control is filtering a lot of the malicious calls now so we are only going out to real jobs. Found out today that the night crew had a bit of a problem with the locals last night.

The only real call we had was to a Sub Station that had a major electrical fault and ended up blowing itself to bits. By the time we got there the fire was out but there was just a mass of black charred plastic. Under advice from the Local Fire Officer he asked us to put our big heavy-duty rubber gloves on and to try to isolate what was left of the fuse boxes.

Apparently one of the GGs broke down and when they tried to recover it some youths tried to take so kit from the vehicle. After a bit of pushing and shoving it broke out into a fight and our guys ended up defending themselves, the wagon and the Police escort. 

Needless to say our guys came out on top and we had the thanks of the Police.

After that incident we had a Police response team to back us up on all calls in the evening just in case we had any more trouble.

 


Day 8.

 

18th July 2001

First call off the day an RTA call to Hooten Road near Bromborough. Our GG was dispatch from Bromborough so they where on scene very quickly but unable to control the rapid fire spread. By the time we got there the fire had been extinguished but the Range Rover was completely gutted.

The only concern I had was the MMMF danger that the new Range Rover had due to the Carbon Fiber wings. All my team were aware of the dangers, but the GG crew were not.

The second call was a house fire in a derelict estate and as we parked up at the address a small kid of about 6 or 7 led me straight to the fire so no prizes for guessing who started the fire.

As usual both FRT and GG crews worked together to extinguish the fire successfully.

 


Day 9.

 

19th July 2001

Today a new development. A house fire again in a derelict building but this time there was a nice surprise for my BA team. Just inside the building on the other side of the fire. Two Butane Gas cylinders had been placed so that they became involved in the fire. 

Thank god the fire had not developed for them to become an issue. There was also an empty plastic petrol container just lying beside where the fire started.

 


 

Day 10

 

20th July 2001

 

0900 Merseyside Fire service take over all calls until 1800 on the Monday 23rd July. We get the FRT checked and put away so that we can all go home for a short weekend.

 

 


 

Day 1 Phase Two

 

23rd July 2001

 We have swapped around with the night FRT crew of last week and start our night shift at 2000. Just after coming on watch we get a call and its a second floor flat fire as we approach the room it is well alight and my team are into BA straight away. I shot up the stairs and found the flat that had the problem, on looking through the letterbox it was as expected, well alight. 

As it happens I managed to get the buildings hose reel into play straight away and called for a sledge hammer to take out the door. The person who started the fire had already jumped out of the window and legged it.

When my team were next to me and ready to go in I hit the door and took the lock out and in they went. After they had extinguished the fire they did the standard search pattern and found nothing.

After the team started venting I was able to get inside with the rest of the crew and start our salvage operations. The room had been badly damaged by the fire and the smoke and in the corner of the room was what was left of the sofa just black ash and springs. 

I took the opportunity to allow the GG crews to see inside the building as they never get to see inside so it was a perfect opportunity for them to see the damage that had been caused by the fire.

Found out today that a further 10 day strike had been voted on to start on the 1st August 2001 and also that if the Fire Brigade Unions demands have not been met in ten days the strike will go national.

 


Day 2 Phase Two.

 

24th July 2001

The strike is over and the Merseyside Firemen go back to work which gives us a night off to go into town and party.

 


Last Day

 

Returned to Altar camp to return all the vehicles and kit and start the long process of getting everybody back to there units.



 

 

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