Novex 2012

November 5, 2012 in General

First off, what do we mean by national emergencies? National emergencies, sometimes defined as critical incidents, are events that will stretch the emergency response resources in a country to their limits and generally involve a significant amount of casualties. We are talking about situations that will affect the basic needs of people in one way or another – threats to life, lack of shelter, shortage of food and water and so on, and so the response to these events has to be extremely quick. These events include, amongst other things, earthquakes, severe weather, major fires and airplane crashes.

 

“…a powerful earthquake, casualties in confined spaces…and a leaking oil tank that caught fire.”

 

Novex 2012 focused mainly on the threat to life. Several incidents in different parts of Malta were triggered at different times of the day, requiring different types of resources to be deployed as necessary. For example, one incident simulated a road traffic accident with a large number of casualties. Other incidents involved buildings collapsed by a powerful earthquake, casualties in confined spaces, casualties that had fallen off a cliff and also a leaking oil tank that caught fire. Aside from testing the rescue techniques utilized  the main aim of this exercise was to bring together the various entities in the country that would be essential to respond to such a large scale emergency, including volunteers and NGOs, particularly focusing on proper incident management, good communications and coordination between all involved.

How was EFRU involved?

The EFRU participated in this exercise with 3 rescue teams (having different capabilities), a search and rescue dog, and a mobile canteen van that provided food and drinks to the rescuers (and casualties). Another small team of EFRU personnel assisted the other three rescue teams by going from incident site to another, delivering any required equipment which the rescuers did not have, or to augment the rescue team as necessary.

One of the EFRU teams was Rope Rescue – this team was composed of personnel with particular knowledge in rescue from heights, able to reach difficult places vertically, tend to any casualties and finally taking them to safety again through the use of ropes, pulley systems and other related equipment. The other two teams were Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams. USAR teams are trained and equipped to intervene on disasters in an urban setting, such as building and structure collapses, which require great care to reach the casualties due to the risk of further collapse. Besides this, due to the heavy building material present, reaching and extricating the casualties can take quite a long time. Cutting and penetration equipment may be needed to cut through walls and ceilings, and both rescuers and casualties will normally need to pass through very tight spaces. The difference between the two EFRU USAR teams was mainly that one was equipped to be able to breach through walls and ceilings while the other team was deployed at sites where this type of work was not necessary.

 

“… an oil tank had caught fire and the

surrounding structure was in danger of collapsing.”

When USAR teams are deployed to an area with several collapsed buildings, they will normally be assisted by a search and rescue dog team so that they can be guided as close as possible to the casualty. The dog and handler will search the area much faster than humans only, and this saves precious time and also reduces unnecessary work [for more information see Nosey Heroes].

The mobile canteen, manned by EFRU volunteers, also played an important role in the overall response. When a major accident happens, rescuers need to respond as quickly as possible and there is no guarantee that their job will be finished in a short time. The mobile canteen will therefore supply these rescuers with food and beverages, which permits the rescuers to work a bit longer and be ready for the next deployment.

As darkness began to fall, the last call of the day came through – Oil leaking from an oil tank had caught fire and the surrounding structure was in danger of collapsing. The EFRU fire team quickly went on site and worked together with other rescue teams to cool down the structure and provide water protection to the teams of fire fighters entering the structure to reach the oil tank’s valves, close them off and thereby extinguishing the fire. This was a great show of teamwork and definitely made the day for anyone watching or participating in the firefighting operation.

Was this exercise only about cooperation between local teams?

Not really! EFRU is proud to have hosted a team of Italian rescue volunteers from the organisation Edelweiss, based in Calabria, and with which EFRU has a twinning agreement. These Italian rescuers were evenly distributed among the EFRU rescue teams, giving the exercise an international feel. While there was an added challenge to communicate due to the different languages, this was outweighed by the opportunity to learn from each other, and strengthening the friendship between the two organisations in the process. Such training gives the possibility for the two teams to work together in case of a disaster in any of the two countries.

Overall it was a positive experience for all EFRU members, especially for the most recent recruits that got to experience the high adrenalin environment of an incident site. Everyone had the opportunity to take part in a way or another. Edelweiss volunteers had the same feeling as well.

 The EFRU management would like to thank the Civil Protection Department for the opportunity to take part in such an important exercise. But above all, a big thanks goes to all EFRU members who dedicate a lot of their time, energy and even money to have an organisation always ready and equipped to assist the community in times of need. The motto of the organisation is not just words on paper but a true belief:

 “Taking Pride in Helping Others”