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Fire crews face rescue challenge in tunnel drill

Kent Fire and Rescue Service personnel make their way down one of the Secret Wartime Tunnels within the cliffs of Dover during a drill
Kent Fire and Rescue Service personnel make their way down one of the tunnels
Exercise designed to improve crews' tunnel emergency preparedness

The Secret Wartime Tunnels deep within the cliffs of Dover was the set of a important drill that took place yesterday evening (22 September). The exercise, called Henry, saw staff from Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) and English Heritage responding to a serious fire deep underground in the tunnels which date back to the Middle Ages.

Devised by KFRS and the Visitor Operations team at the Secret Wartime Tunnels, the ‘disaster' unfolded after emergency control room operators received a call to reports of smoke with people trapped inside. While fire crews made their way to the scene, site staff carried out a full evacuation of the tunnels which were full of hundreds of mock-visitors. In an added test, when the first crews from Dover arrived they were confronted by hundreds of worried and upset sightseers, with one of the group collapsing from a suspected heart attack.

Elsewhere, English Heritage carried out a roll call and established that three construction employees, last known to be working in the deepest tunnel called ‘Dumpy', were missing. ‘Dumpy', which was developed in the Cold War, was built to provide a Regional Control Centre of Government in the event of nuclear war.

Shortly afterwards, additional firefighters from Whitfield and St.Margaret's were sent to the scene to assist Dover's crews with a search and rescue mission, tackling the fire and managing the crowds of visitors.

Control room operators were also tested on their response, and set up effective communications channels so that the incident could be resolved quickly and smoothly.

As the incident unfolded, breathing apparatus crews searching for the trapped trio in the tunnels were met by two injured men. The pair were led to safety and asked if they knew any information on the whereabouts of their colleague. The information supplied by the casualties enabled firefighters to pinpoint the location of the third man, and shortly afterwards crews found the casualty unconscious. While he was carried out of the tunnels and administered first aid and oxygen, breathing apparatus wearers tackled the fire.

"We hope to apply the lessons learnt from this exercise to advance our procedures at other sites"

Tony Scott, Watch Manager and Exercise Director said: "The exercise was a success and praise must be given to both English Heritage staff and firefighters participating in this exercise - they all coped extremely well with a multitude of different challenges.

"We found it hugely useful to take part in an exercise like this. Benefits included being able to test our contingency plans for incidents like this, to ensure that they are fit for purpose and gaining practical experience, including awareness of working with other agencies, like English Heritage. It also provided firefighters with a valuable training opportunity to learn the fundamental tasks and priorities for dealing with a fire in the tunnels. We hope to apply the lessons learnt from this exercise to advance our procedures at other sites."

Lyndsay Riley, Visitor Operations Site Supervisor, Secret Wartime Tunnels said: "The safety of our visitors and their enjoyment is paramount so we are pleased to have had the opportunity to work closely with Kent Fire and Rescue Service to ensure our high standards are always upheld."

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