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Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)

Aylesbury Fire Station, Stocklake, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP20 1BD

Information about Urban Search and Rescue.

Station Commander

Kevin Mercer

About Us

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) forms part of the government’s New Dimension programme, which seeks to enhance the capability of the fire and rescue service to respond to a range of major emergencies. 

Aylesbury Fire Station is part of a national network of 20 bases for the people, vehicles and equipment needed in the aftermath of major incidents such as collapsed buildings, major transportation incidents, natural disasters and terrorist activity. 

The USAR programme was established following the 9/11 attack on New York in 2001. This marked a turning point in the challenge posed by international terrorism, and prompted the government to review and improve the country’s ability to respond to the increased risks.

The USAR training and equipment, coupled with the knowledge, experience, skills and dedication of all our USAR-trained staff, significantly strengthens our robust emergency response provision.

Although major disasters and terrorist incidents lead to the biggest headlines, there are a range of other emergencies that we must also be prepared for, both nationally and locally.

As well as being able to cope with a range of unexpected disruptive events, such as building collapses and natural disasters, our USAR team regularly works alongside Firefighters to enhance public safety at incidents in and beyond Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes. These include road traffic collisions involving large goods vehicles, farm fires and incidents which leave buildings unstable.

The USAR crews at Aylesbury are equipped with four lorries, called prime movers, two personnel carriers and five modules containing specialist equipment. Here is a description of the modules and their uses:

Module 1 is an enclosed unit based on a 20ft ISO container with rear and side opening doors. The module provides USAR support in the early stages of an incident. Both sides can be opened via cantilever doors. The interior of the module is fitted with racks and shelves in which the equipment is stowed. The module has a heating and ventilation capability. 

  • Scene assessment and safety 
  • Technical search 
  • Temporary shoring – metal 
  • Power generation and lighting 
  • Drills and concrete breakers 
  • Safe working at height 
  • Timber and timber cutting 
  • Hand tools 
  • Bolts and anchor 

Module 2 is an enclosed unit based on a 20ft ISO container with rear and side opening doors. The module provides heavy rescue equipment required at a major transport incident. Both sides can be opened via cantilever doors. The interior of the module is fitted with racks and shelves in which the equipment is stowed. The module has a heating and ventilation capability.

  • Hot cutting 
  • Heavy hydraulic equipment 
  • Confined-space working 
  • Rope access and rescue 
  • Timber chain saws 
  • Lifting and moving equipment 
  • Power generation and lighting 
  • Mechanics tools 
  • Bolts and anchors 

Module 3 is an enclosed unit based on a 20ft ISO container with rear and side opening doors. The module provides heavy rescue support in the developing stages of an incident. Both sides can be opened via cantilever doors. The interior of the module is fitted with racks and shelves in which the equipment is stowed. The module has a heating and ventilation capability.

  • Timber shoring equipment 
  • Nailing equipment 
  • Bolts and anchors 
  • Power generation and lighting 
  • Large capacity air lift systems 
  • Fast-cut saws 
  • Access and working platforms 
  • Hydraulic breaking and breaching 

Module 4 is an open unit based on a 20ft ISO container with fixed sides to a height of 1.2m. The module is used to carry equipment, including an MPV, and can also act as a tipper unit for the movement of debris. The rear of the module is a hinged gate allowing full width access to the module. The gate also incorporates a hinged flap for use when the module is operating as a tipper unit. 

  • Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV)
  • MPV equipment 
  • Power generation and lighting 
  • Portable shelters 

Module 5 is a flat-bed unit based on a 20-foot ISO container. The module is used to carry timber and equipment and incorporates a tilt-cover and a load securing mechanism.

  • Timber stock including cribbing, wedges and bulk timber

New Team member

The newest fully-fledged member of our USAR team is just over two years old and has four legs!

After 18 months of training, Huw, a chocolate Lab/Springer cross, or Springador, passed his National Resilience grading with handler Watch Commander Alan Still. From December 2019 the duo were ready for deployment to assist with local and national incidents.

Huw is trained as a live scent detection dog and has the ability to recognise and concentrate on the specific odour given off by live people. When he detects the correct scent, he informs his handler with a consistent and strong bark to pinpoint the location.

This rapid approach can assist USAR crews by drawing their attention to specific areas of focus which increase the overall chances of survival.

When not at work, Huw lives with Alan and his family at their home in Buckinghamshire. He is likely to have a working life of at least six years, and will continue to live with them when he retires. You can follow them on Twitter here.