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New base for our USAR training programme

A new, purpose built, Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) training site is being set up at Westcott Venture Park.

Image of the USAR training scene at Westcott in September 2020

Westcott Venture Park is set to become home to a new disaster training facility for our Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team.

The USAR programme was established following the 9/11 attack on New York in 2001, to improve the country’s ability to respond to the increased risks posed by terrorism. 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. 

Kevin Mercer, Aylesbury and USAR Station Commander, said:

“We are really excited about our future at Westcott where we aim to develop one of the best USAR training facilities in the country.

“Our tenancy will help further showcase Westcott and its commitment to supporting this specific and essential national resilience capability.”

Exercises play a part in training:

In September 2020 Westcott hosted Exercise Phoenix for us (shown in images above), a major disaster training operation which involved a scenario with a small jet crashing into a rocket testing and fuel production facility following an unsuccessful emergency landing.

More than 100 personnel from five USAR units across Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Essex, and West Midlands attended, along with tactical advisors, and canine search teams trained to detect live human scent.

They were joined by ten Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) paramedics using a range of specialist lifesaving equipment and vehicles and Police Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams.

We are still in the very early stages of developing the site into a training venue and looking to source a range of materials from rubble to unwanted vehicles to help build the rescue scene.

Alan Still, Watch Commander USAR Support, added:

“Exercise Phoenix was extremely successful, and it opened people’s eyes to the potential it has for hosting such large-scale exercises. A significant part of the training facility is a blank piece of land, where we need the equivalent of 200 tonnes of rubble, and we need help to build it.”

Anyone who may have suitable materials to help build the rubble pile/disaster scenario should email Kevin Mercer or Alan Still: kmercer@bucksfire.gov.uk or alanstill@bucksfire.gov.uk.

Following a recent visit by the National Resilience Assurance Team the site has been approved as the ideal location to host an exercise for USAR Zone 1, which will include teams from Tyne & Wear, West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire and Merseyside. The exercise will also involve fire crews to provide a realistic and more natural feel to the scenario.

In another string to its bow, Westcott will also become a recognised site for training the 20 specialist USAR canine teams to detect live human scent. They include four-year-old Huw, the chocolate Labrador/Springer cross who is a key member of our team. Trained by Alan, Huw has been training at Westcott for the last few years and has passed National Resilience grading to assist with local and national incidents.

The news follows on from the Rapid Response Medical Group which provides ambulance services and training moving into Building 4000 to facilitate a new NHS contract, while Thames Valley Police are also set to have a presence at the park, meaning all the emergency services will be represented onsite.

Wescott’s Business Park Manager, Jayne Cannell, said: “We have an excellent working relationship with the fire and rescue service, and it is fantastic to hear that such an important facility is being developed here. I am sure everyone at Westcott and beyond will be delighted to help the team with their vital work.”


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