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Vital work of Urban Search and Rescue recognised in Dereham

Norfolk County Council, 21 July 2023 00:00

The ongoing work of Norfolk's Urban Search and Rescue Team has been hailed as "vital" by local leaders after Home Office funding was secured for another two years

The Urban Search and Rescue Team (USAR), based at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's fire station in Dereham, was visited by George Freeman MP and Norfolk County Council Leader Cllr Kay Mason Billig this morning (Friday 21 July), both of whom lobbied the Home Office to continue funding USAR teams across the UK. 

Cllr Kay Mason Billig, Leader of Norfolk County Council, said: "Just a few days ago we commemorated the first anniversary of the devastating wildfires that hit Norfolk in 2022: both the heroic response to the events of last summer and the huge effort that has been made over the past year to prepare for future wildfires in Norfolk make it clear just how important the work of our Fire and Rescue Service is for us all. But our firefighters face much more than just flames in their jobs: whether it's a traffic collision, a collapsed building, a missing person or simply someone in need of rescue from remote or inaccessible locations, firefighters are often among the first on the scene. 

"The specialist skills and experience of the Urban Search and Rescue team are a key part of that work, not just for Norfolk but nationally. Removing the team risks undermining a key capability we have to save lives, and protect infrastructure, and I am very glad that the government listened to the arguments and decided to continue funding this vital service." 

Original Home Office proposals to restructure the USAR capability, reducing the number of teams nationally from 20 to 15, were deferred earlier this year, with the Norfolk USAR grant from the Home Office now due to remain unchanged in both 2023-24 and 2024-25. 

Norfolk hosts the only USAR team across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The team are on standby to support major incidents not only across those counties, but across the country as part of a national response to large-scale events. 

George Freeman MP, Member of Parliament for Mid Norfolk, said: "The USAR team is a highly respected and much valued asset, providing specialist support and valuable additional capacity to strengthen the resilience and effectiveness of Fire and Rescue Services across the region - particularly in the most challenging scenarios. That's why I take the future of this vital service so seriously, working with fellow MPs, NCC and the Fire and Rescue Service to secure an extension to the USAR team's funding, and why I am delighted to be able to visit the team's base in Dereham again to meet with staff, learn more about the critical work they do and reiterate my ongoing support for them moving forward." 

The USAR team are trained and equipped to deal with major incidents, including building collapses and large transport incidents, bringing specialist knowledge and experience to bear in order to save lives. In addition, the Norfolk USAR team trains to support the Fire and Rescue Service in a number of other specialist capacities, including confined space rescues, missing person searches and rescue for height. 

Ceri Sumner, Chief Fire Officer at Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said: "The USAR team is not only a part of our service here in Norfolk, but a key asset for our entire region, and we welcomed the news the Home Office funding is to continue. Our USAR officers take part in local, regional and national exercises to prepare to respond to a range of incidents anywhere in the country, and we're proud to have these skills within our fire services." 

Cllr William Richmond, Norfolk County Councillor for Dereham North Division, said; "Local people are very pleased the Urban and Search Team will continue to operate from Dereham Fire Station, serving communities across Norfolk and the country. The USAR Team includes full-time firefighters and technicians split into two watches, providing cover 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The full-time staff is supported by on call USAR technicians who provide cover on a part time basis and includes a fully trained search dog and handler. We wish to thank the USAR team and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service for all they do." 

Since its inception, Norfolk's USAR team has been involved in a number of major incidents, from being part of the response to the RAF Tornado crash in 2007 and the USAF Helicopter crash along the Norfolk Coast in 2014, to shoring up a collapsed building in Worlingworth in 2010. More recently, the USAR team worked as part of the response to the Second World War bomb found in Great Yarmouth. 

More widely, the team are called out to shore up buildings damaged by car collisions and made spaces safe for the NFRS colleagues to fight fires where confined spaces or other hazards make the work particularly dangerous, as well as supporting the work of NFRS and its partners.

Last modified: 14 May 2024 12:46

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