Temperatures of minus 18C, gruelling snow marches and the threat of bears, wolves and coyotes were just a few of the challenges for an intrepid Hampshire firefighter. Barry Atkins from Eastleigh Fire Station was deployed to a forest in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, with a few other members of the UK International Search and Rescue team.
The nine-day exercise was designed to teach the elite firefighters how to deal with extreme cold, develop their survival skills and hone their wide area search capabilities.
The scenario was that of a plane crash where firefighters had to look for survivors which had wandered off into the unforgiving wilderness with varying degrees of injury.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service fulltime Crew Manager Atkins, who is also oncall for Urban Search and Rescue, said: “The course was billed as extremely challenging and hard work but ultimately very rewarding, and it certainly lived up to expectation.
“There is no doubt that should a situation like this come in a real life this training would prove invaluable.
“There are also transferable skills that I can take back and apply to other parts of my job and learning I can share with the team in Hampshire.”
The 16 emergency services personnel from across the UK had to put up tents and erect makeshift shelters for accommodation, and chop fire wood and light fires for warmth.
To make the exercise more challenging participants were expected to use foliage as part of their bedding and after a night in the tent they had to locate and retrieve their hidden food rations on snow shoes and via sledge.
CM Atkins, who lives in Hedge End, also had to be part of a team carrying out a night search as well as being responsible for maintaining the fire to heat the camp.
To complete the various parts of the scenario the team had to locate all ‘casualties’ and then start a fire to signal the spotter plane.
The expedition was led by Red Deer County Search and Rescue with Canada’s Civil Air Search and Rescue (CASAR) which added helicopter deployment to the challenge.
CM Atkins said: “This kind of hands-on learning cannot be taught in a classroom.
“I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to develop these life-saving skills and I’m very grateful to our generous hosts for the effort they put in to ensure we got the most out of the experience.”
He presented a shield to the hosts on behalf of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.