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Preparing for the worst so we can be at our best!

Preparing for the worst so we can be at our best!

Exercise Swegon. A multi agency HS2 training in a 68-metre-deep Ventilation Shaft is a success in preparing us for the worst.

Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service attended Exercise Swegon, a multi-agency training exercise, held on the 9 December 2022, at HS2 Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire.

Crews and appliances from our service along with Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue Service (HFRS), Thames Valley Police (TVP), plus HS2 and Align JV personnel attended the exercise. The aim of the day was to test incident command systems, improve interoperability between partner agencies and implement JESIP principles by responding to a realistic incident scenario.

It’s well known that Firefighters preform rescues at height, but this exercise involved working in a ventilation shaft that measured 68 meters deep. That’s roughly the size of 8 London buses end to end. Opportunities to work in environments like this do not come around often.

Joint Exercise Planner and Watch Commander (WC), Gavin Gillings said

“The idea that BFRS could be called upon at any moment to a large incident involving one of these sites is the reason that we take time to plan realistic scenarios. They give us the opportunity to replicate how we respond, and the resources that will be needed.  Exercise Swegon was coordinated with the Align JV Health and Safety team. It involved a simulated fire within a ventilation shaft, where multiple people were trapped, injured and suffering the effects from fire and smoke.  The shaft itself descends 14 floors below ground level. As you might imagine this is really hard work travelling down to perform a rescue while wearing breathing apparatus and carrying firefighting equipment.”

Working together across agencies

To organise an exercise of this magnitude, a collaborative team approach was needed.  Watch Commanders from Amersham and Gerrards Cross Fire Stations worked closely with Align JV Deputy Health, Safety & Wellbeing Director and the Align JV team.

Align JV Deputy Health, Safety & Wellbeing Director Ralph Ashwood said

“These types of exercises can be difficult to organise, getting all the right people in the right place, not giving the scenario away, making it realistic enough without making it impossible, and not impacting on the construction programme.  I think the exercise was a great example of collaboration and hopefully brought learning for all those involved.”

Firefighters performing a training exercise in a ventilation shaft
Credit: White Hart Media on behalf of Align JV

Thames Valley Fire Control (TVFC) also supported the exercise, adding an additional element of realism. They assisted with staggered mobilisation times

A specialist police team were able to assist with an overhead view of the site when using a drone.  This equipment meant that as the exercise became protracted and the tactical plan became more advanced, incident commanders had the ability to observe the full scene from above and out of harms reach.

One of the exercise planners WC, Scott Knowler talks about how important collaboration is.

“Working together across agencies in this way gives us a real appreciation for one another’s capabilities and equipment.  The drone footage that TVP were able to supply really assisted in the tactical planning and successful outcome of the exercise.  Onsite equipment that Align JV have, such as the crane and davit arm were a useful asset and also gave Align JV personnel the ideal opportunity to train with their equipment in real time.

During the planning phase of the exercise WC Gavin Gillings and I wanted to ensure as many people benefitted from this exercise as possible.  Our Thames Valley Fire Control embraced the opportunity to assist us with the smooth running of the exercise from afar on the day.  It was great to see that so many agencies and departments were able to come together in this way.”

Firefighters in a ventilation shaft
Credit: White Hart Media on behalf of Align JV

As the construction continues at the Align shaft sites, Chalfont St Peter, Chalfont St Giles, Amersham, Little Missenden and Chesham Road, we continue to work with local stakeholders to ensure that we share and maintain the most up to date information in our vision to make Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes the safest place to live, work and travel.

Thank you to all involved

We would like to thank all those that were involved and participated on the day in making Exercise Swegon the success that it was, and we look forward to any future opportunities to collaborate in this way.

More about HS2 Chalfont St Peter site

The HS2 ventilation shaft that was used in exercise Swegon serves the Chiltern tunnels in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire.  The ventilation shaft is currently in its construction phase with works being completed by Align JV and is due for completion between 2028-31.  The huge infrastructure is one of five ventilation and intervention shafts required for the tunnels under the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire.  This is part of the construction of HS2 Phase One which will connect London to the Midlands and beyond.  In total the new railway network will transport 300,000 passengers daily, with up to 1100 seats on its 400-metre-long trains whilst travelling at speeds of up to 225mph.



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