With the car's metalwork peeled back like a giant sardine tin lid, Becca's safe!

PUBLISHED: 12:57 27 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:57 27 October 2015

Firefighters from Exmouth's Red Watch during a b-post rip RTC exercise. Ref exe 4408-42-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

Firefighters from Exmouth's Red Watch during a b-post rip RTC exercise. Ref exe 4408-42-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

Archant

When Exmouth's red watch firefighters asked me if I would like to be cut out of a car, I jumped at the chance at a morning away from the office playing 'casualty'.

Fire crews regularly set up ‘real life’ training exercises in a bid to maintain and improve their firefighting and rescue skills.

This was to be the second time I had been cut from a car by Exmouth’s fire service – my first experience was almost a decade ago at the start of my career as a reporter.

Since then, techniques have changed considerably, although the end result remains the same – to free the trapped casualty.

Red watch crew - watch manager Nathan Lapwood and firefighters Paul Ash, Jurgen Jameson and Stephen Shepherd - explained the scenario: two cars had crashed after the driver (me) had been using a mobile phone at the wheel.

On the fire station training ground, I slotted into the driver’s seat of my crashed car, slumped over the steering wheel - and waited for the fire service to arrive.

Each rescue must be safe, time-effective and casualty-centred, the crew explained.

Straightaway, station manager Jim Laker came to my aid, slipping into the vehicle’s back seat, checking I could breathe, asking me my name, supporting my head.

While this was going on, the fire crew was carrying out an assessment of the scene. They stabilised the vehicle with props and quickly set to work with their specialist computer system, checking the technical details of the car; how to safely disconnect the battery; bringing up details of the vehicle’s electrics; how the seats move - building up a full picture.

Before the crew set to work, protective film, like sticky cling film, was spread over the windows to prevent glass from shattering over the casualty.

A large plastic sheet was placed inside the vehicle, covering Jim and me, again to protect the casualty from any debris – and also rain in a real-life rescue.

Once we were cocooned inside, there was a warning call from the crew that glass was going to break.

There was a thump as the crew broke the driver-side window, ready to begin cutting away the side of the car.

Sitting inside, hidden from view, Jim, still holding my head steady, patiently and calmly explained what the crews were doing outside to free me.

Outside, using hydraulic spreaders and hydraulic cutters, the crew cut away the posts of the car – the structures attaching the roof to the vehicle’s body.

Their aim was to create space, which would enable the emergency services to easily access the vehicle and safely remove a casualty.

When the tarpaulin was removed from inside the car, I was amazed to find the entire driver’s side was missing, the door peeled back like a sardine tin lid, the rigid posts and windows gone.

Watch manager Nathan Lapwood said the fire service worked in conjunction with road safety charity Brake, targeting drivers aged between 17 and 24, who were ‘far more likely’ to have an accident than during any other period of driving.

Mr Lapwood said: “A lot of the road traffic collisions we attend are related to lack of concentration - mobile phone use, lighting up, children in the car, changing the stereo, or sat nav.”

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service daily invests its manpower in prevention and, as a result, outbreaks of fire have reduced.

However, it is important crews maintain their firefighting and rescue skills.

“A lot of our time is spent on community safety and community prevention activities,” said Mr Lapwood, “therefore, people are having fewer fires.

“It’s important to maintain our skills and that’s why we have training. We set up a realistic scenario that’s quite feasibly something that we could come across in real life.”

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