Greater Manchester emergency services work together on terror attack training

Greater Manchester’s emergency services have undertaken a series of joint large-scale training exercises to ensure they are ready to respond and help people in the event of terror attacks or incidents involving large numbers of casualties. 

Over the last month, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) Firearms Training Unit and North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) have worked together to carry out the multi-agency exercises. 

The weekly night-time exercises have taken place at the University of Bolton and began on Thursday June 8, with the last taking place on Thursday 6 July. All exercises have seen the three emergency services respond to mock real-life scenarios to put their joint responses to the test and to help ensure that if ever called upon, Greater Manchester is in the best possible position to respond to a terror attack or mass casualty incident.

The mock incident, which was based on an unknown number of terrorists indiscriminately attacking people at the venue, was made more realistic for the attending crews with the aid of up to 60 volunteers playing the role of casualties, suffering from a wide range of realistic injuries - created by the University’s SFX students - that required rapid treatment and rescue.

Superintendent John-Paul Ruffle, of GMP’s Specialist Operations branch, said: “It is of the highest importance that all emergency services are prepared for major incidents so we can respond in the best possible way. Exercises provide a vital opportunity for us to test elements of the response in an environment where there is no real risk or threat of harm and to identify and implement any learnings.

“In recent years, Greater Manchester Police and key partner agencies have implemented changes to improve planning, training, and testing to name just a few. All services take part in regular exercises and our activity at Bolton University is just one of many examples.

“In this case, with the oversight of GMP’s Firearms Training Unit and the valuable support of GMFRS and NWAS, we were able to test the response of our Authorised Firearms Officers (AFOs) who would be amongst the first on the scene of a suspected terror attack, who have a higher-level of first aid training, and whose vehicles carry specialist kit.”

 The training comes shortly after GMFRS rolled out its improved marauding terrorist attack (MTA) capability following an intensive year-long project across the Service. As of May 2023, over 1100 firefighters across all 41 fire stations in the city-region have completed three days of specialist training and every fire appliance in Greater Manchester is now equipped with a range of specialist equipment needed for crews to respond to a terrorist attack or mass casualty event.

This has been achieved through collaboration with the Fire Brigade’s Union and emergency service partners, and means all firefighters are now ready to assist in the treatment and rescue of people in the event of a terrorist attack, whilst ensuring they are safe. It is the first time the capability has been available in Greater Manchester on this scale.

GMFRS Area Manager Ben Levy, MTA Project Manager said: “We’ve worked really hard to ensure all our firefighters in Greater Manchester are trained, equipped and prepared to respond  and help people in the event of a terror attack or any incident involving a large number of casualties.

“We hope we never have to put this training to the test, but sadly the threat of these events is a reality that we have to be ready for. Cross-service training exercises like this are absolutely crucial in making sure we remain as prepared as possible and that the way all emergency services work together in these times of crisis is as effective as possible in protecting the public.

“The series of exercises have taken place in a complex venue with a scenario involving multiple ‘attackers’. Our firefighters were actively engaged during these sessions and deployed for an extensive period of time alongside specialist and non-specialist responders as they would be in a real incident. The exercises saw our crews fully immersed, requiring them to undertake rapid, ongoing and continual developing of shared situational awareness to develop a joint understanding of risk; the realism of the sessions is testament to the hours of planning committed by our training team and partners.” 

The training also tested the use of Joint Emergency Service Interoperability Principles (JESIP) and declaration of Operation Plato, taking into account learning following the Manchester Arena Inquiry.

Dan Smith, North West Ambulance Service Head of Operations for Greater Manchester, said: “These exercises give our teams valuable experience working in extreme situations alongside our blue light partners.

Specifically, they could practise with us the triage, treatment and extraction of patients in a mass casualty major incident exercise. It also provided an opportunity to test both our specialist and non-specialist clinicians and our operational commanders.

“We are very pleased with the outcome and expect to complete similar exercises in the future.

“This means should the worst happen; we are better prepared to respond and care for whoever needs us.”

Michelle Powell, the University of Bolton’s Head of School – Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, said: “It has been such a valuable exercise for all involved.

“It has allowed our students from various professional backgrounds, paramedic, physiotherapy, physician associates, ODP and nursing, to be involved in a large simulation and experience care from a patient perspective.

“Our students are usually the people who are providing the care, so this has allowed them an insight they would not be able to gain anywhere else.

“They have been able to witness how the public are prioritised and protected by Greater Manchester Police, patients are triaged by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and North West Ambulance Service and the effective teamwork of the emergency services to take patients to safety.

“Our special effects students have also gained valuable experience in creating specific injuries to add realism to the simulation, which has showcased their amazing talents. Overall it has been a fantastic experience for all involved.” 

Holli Foster, Second Year Paramedic Student, said: “Taking part in the event has helped me develop as a student paramedic in many ways. It has given me a broader and more in-depth understanding of multi-agency working, as well as seeing and experiencing it from the patient's perspective. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking part.”

Article Published: 11/07/2023 09:20 AM