Specialist Teams and Resources for Emergency Incidents
We have specialist teams and resources to respond to a range of emergencies.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service trains and equips its
firefighters to deal with any emergency incident that they may be
called to attend.
In certain circumstances however, an emergency incident may be
addressed more safely and effectively by personnel with more
specialist knowledge, training and equipment.
We have specialist teams and resources that are available to
respond to emergencies in Northumberland. These specialist teams
and resources enhance Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s
ability to protect the people who live and work in as well as visit
When you dial 999 and ask for Fire and Rescue, you will be put
through to one of our operators within Fire Control. Fire Control
consists of highly skilled operators and supervisors who primarily
respond to emergency calls and mobilise fire crews and resources to
attend emergency incidents.
Fire Control is located at Northumberland Fire and Rescue
Service HQ at West Hartford and is operational 24 hours a day,
every day of the year.
Fire Control Operators are responsible for:
- Receiving emergency calls.
- Mobilising resources to emergency incidents, for instance
firefighters, fire appliances and specialist units.
- Maintaining communication with fire crews and fire officers
- Mobilising additional resources and equipment to incidents, as
- Maintaining information on operational resources.
- Liaising with other emergency and non-emergency agencies e.g.
Police, Ambulance or the environmental agencies.
- Receiving non-emergency calls from a range of sources,
including all out of hours telephone calls made to Northumberland
Fire and Rescue Service and Northumberland County Council.
When you dial 999, the Emergency Services Operator will connect
your call to Fire Control.
The Operator in Fire Control will ask you some questions about
the nature of the emergency and the location, and will enter these
details into a computerised dispatch system. This system
automatically finds the closest fire appliances and Officers to
respond. It also activates the turnout system at the nearest fire
- Sounds the audible alarm
- Activates part-time firefighters' personal alerters
- Turns on the lights at night
- Activates any other facilities connected to it.
The address of the call is sent to the fire station teleprinter,
the fire officers' pagers and, on selected vehicles, to Mobile Data
Terminals in the cabs of the fire appliances.
Fire Control initially sends a specific number of
appliances/units to each incident based on a Pre-Determined
Attendance (PDA). The PDA to an incident will vary considerably and
will depend on a number of considerations, such as:
- Type of incident
- Type of property (eg High Rise Block/Hospital)
- Personnel required
- Equipment required
- Any known hazards and risks
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service operates two separate
1. The system which is used the most is a secure digital radio
system known to us as the Airwave Radio. The
Airwave Radio is used for communication between Fire Control and
the fire appliances and officers who are attending incidents. The
Airwave Radio system is used to ensure that everyone involved,
including Fire Control, is kept informed of what is happening at an
When firefighters arrive at an incident, they may require more
assistance and this is requested using the Airwave radio. All
requests for further assistance are monitored by Fire Control as
they have a complete overview of all the resources that are
available in the area and in neighbouring Fire and Rescue Services.
Extra fire appliances can be quickly sent by Fire Control to
support those already attending.
Airwave is a national radio system and is used by all of the
Emergency Services in the UK, including:
- Fire and Rescue
- HM Coastguard
- Ministry of Defense
The use of a single radio system across the country
significantly improves cooperation between personnel from different
emergency services as it enables them to talk with one another at
2. The other radio system which Northumberland Fire and Rescue
Service operates is known as the Fire Ground
Radio. Each fire appliance has a number of Fire Ground
Radios which are used by the firefighters to speak to each other
and to speak to other crews on their approach to an incident to
pass information and instructions.
To ensure that all details, such as road and place names, are
communicated accurately, Fire Control uses the nationally
recognised phonetic alphabet.
One of Fire Control’s most important responsibilities is to
ensure that appropriate levels of cover are maintained at our Fire
Stations to ensure that we can send fire appliances to any further
emergency calls that we may receive.
To do this, Fire Control staff will make “standby moves” – this
is when they move a fire appliance from one location to another.
Our computerised dispatch system helps Fire Control to identify the
most appropriate fire appliance(s) to move.
When Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service is really busy - for
example, during periods of excessive rainfall when we receive lots
of calls to flooding - we ensure that we keep a strategic reserve
of fire appliances at our Fire Stations. We do this to ensure that
we have resources available to attend non-flooding related
incidents, for example house fires and road traffic collisions.
When 999 emergency calls are connected to Fire Control by the
Emergency Operator, with the assistance of the latest technology
available, we know the telephone number that you are calling from.
If you are using a landline (for example your home telephone
number), we will immediately know the address and location you are
calling from. If a mobile telephone is used to place an emergency
call, we know the telephone number that you are calling from, and
we can now obtain map coordinates which almost pinpoint where you
are ringing from on a map. Telephone kiosk numbers and locations
are also contained within our computer system and these locations
are instantly recognised when you make a call.
If a call is suspected to be malicious, the caller will be
challenged by the Fire Control operator. Hoax call details are
recorded on a database so that we can quickly identify repeat
callers/numbers. All emergency calls are recorded and can be
entered as evidence if a caller is prosecuted for making malicious
False alarm calls reduce availability of our fire appliances and
increase response times for real emergency situations. In short,
false alarms can cost lives!
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service will endeavour to
prosecute malicious callers as part of its responsibilities under
the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.
We are also here to help if you know someone making hoax calls
or if your business is experiencing false alarms.
If you know a child or young person who is making false alarm
calls to Fire and Rescue, the Fire
Setters Education Programme might be able to help.
If your business is experiencing false alarms and unnecessary
fire calls, please view the false
The new Emergency Fire Control Centre at West Hartford went live
at 12.00 hours on Monday 25th November 2013. The project
commenced in early 2011 in response to the government’s decision to
terminate the Regional Fire Control Project in December 2010.
The project has been conducted in partnership with Tyne and Wear
Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS), and includes the development of
two emergency fire control centres, one at the Northumberland Fire
and Rescue Service (NFRS) Headquarters at West Hartford and the
other at the TWFRS Headquarters at Barmston Mere.
Whilst each control centre will operate independently, they will
share a common communications system, enabling each Service to
receive emergency calls on behalf of both Services, and to mobilise
and manage the resources of both Services. This has potential to
reduce call handling and mobilising times in the future. In
addition there are savings to be made, as neither Service will need
to provide and maintain a secondary emergency fire control centre
in the future. NFRS received a grant from central government of
£1.8m to fund the project.
Following a robust tendering process the contract for supply,
installation and maintenance of the communications equipment was
awarded to Telent in November 2012. Work has been ongoing
throughout 2013 to develop, test and train staff on the new system;
whilst at the same time developing suitable accommodation at West
Hartford, where the emergency fire control centre has moved to from
its current location at Loansdean, Morpeth.
NFRS has also worked with Northumberland County Council to
identify ways in which the emergency fire control centre can be
used to improve levels of service provided by the County Council.
This has resulted in emergency fire control staff now handling out
of hours calls on behalf of the County Council.
For further information please contact the Project Manager: Rob
Clow on 01670 621134 or e-mail Robin.Clow@northumberland.gov.uk
Flood Management Unit (FMU)
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s Flood Management Unit
(FMU) is based at Pegswood Community Fire Station. The FMU contains
equipment that enhances NFRS’s ability to assist Northumberland
County Council in limiting and preventing damage caused by
flooding. The service is operated 24/7 and is used to supplement
Northumberland County Council’s resources at major flooding
incidents. Under normal circumstances the FMU is primarily used to
protect critical infrastructure.
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s (NFRSs) FMU contains
5,000 sand less sandbags (Aquasacs). The FMU also carries one-time
use inflatable pools which are used for rehydrating the sandbags.
This equipment is stored on portable cages within an ISO container.
The container is delivered to flooding incidents using NFRS’s
Hooklift Prime Mover vehicle, which is also located at Pegswood
Community Fire Station.
The Aquasacs contain a special gel which expands when mixed with
water. When the gel is dry, the Aquasacs are virtually flat, which
minimises the space required for storage and transportation. The
innovative design of the Aquasacs means that they can be rapidly
filled and used to create a barrier to flood water.
When the FMU is required, the Aquasacs are delivered using
NFRS’s Hooklift Prime Mover Vehicle to a central location. Once
delivered to a central location, it is Northumberland County
Council’s responsibility to accept and distribute the Aquasacs.
High Volume Pumping Unit (HVP)
Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service’s High Volume Pumping
Unit (HVP) is based at Pegswood Community Fire Station. The HVP
provides the ability to pump large volumes of water very quickly –
it can pump up to 7,000 litres of water per minute!
The HVP is crewed 24/7 by 28 specially trained operators. It can
be used at a number of different types of emergencies which may
require pumping and storage of large volumes of water.
Some examples of when it can be used are given below:
The HVP can be used to pump water up to 3 km away from areas
that have been flooded. However, the length of hose that can be
deployed can cause potential disruption to road networks. It is
therefore necessary for NFRS to liaise fully with Northumbria
Police and Northumberland County Council Highways when laying the
HVP hose on the road network.
The HVP can be used to supply water to a fire when there is
little or no water supply. The HVP can be used to take water from a
source that is up to 3 km away from the fire.
The HVP can hold up a total volume of up to 60,000 litres of
fluid. This capability was previously used at an incident involving
a tanker containing milk. The tanker had overturned and the HVP was
used to temporarily store the milk that it contained to avoid it
polluting a nearby water course.
The HVP consists of three key elements:
- 3km of hose
- Prime mover hooklift carrying vehicle
- 2 modules - 1 carrying 1km of hose and the hydrosub submersible
pump and the other carrying 2km of hose.
Both of the HVP modules also carry a range of adapters, valves
and ramps which can be used to configure a number of different
water supply or removal scenarios.
Yes, The HVP can lift water from a depth of 55 metres.
No. The HVP is used in Northumberland and in other areas of the
country. For example, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s HVP
was sent to assist in the severe flooding that occurred in Kingston
upon Hull in 2007. The HVP Unit also participates in National
- There are 46 High Volume Pumping Units strategically placed
around England, one of which is located in Northumberland.
- The pumps were introduced by the Government under the New
Dimensions initiative and can be deployed to any area of the
Country upon request.
- HVPs are able to provide water for firefighting at a rate of
7,000 litres of water per minute or remove water from a flooded
area at the same rate.
- An Olympic size swimming pool could be emptied by a pair of
HVP’s in just 3 hours compared to just over 9 hours with standard
- A road tanker containing 28,000 litres of liquid could be
emptied by a single HVP in just 4 minutes.
Incident Response Unit (IRU)
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s Incident Response Unit
(IRU) is based at West Hartford Community Fire Station (also
Northumberland’s Service Headquarters). It contains a range of
equipment for use in the event of a Chemical, Biological,
Radioactive, Nuclear or Explosive (CBRNE) incident. Our specially
trained IRU operators can use the equipment on the IRU to perform
The IRU consists of a lorry with a forklift truck mounted on the
rear. The forklift is used to remove cages of equipment from the
curtain-sided lorry. The equipment carried on the IRU includes:
- Portable shower units that can wash and decontaminate large
numbers of people
- Inflatable decontamination tents to decontaminate Fire
- Gas tight suits
- Radiation monitors
- Portable lighting units
- Disrobe and re-robe packs for casualties for before and after
Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in
2001, the UK government provided UK Fire and Rescue Services with
equipment to enable them to respond to a ‘New Dimension’ of threat
not seen before – the threat of large scale disasters and terrorist
attacks through Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, Nuclear and
Explosive (CBRNE) incidents.
The IRU and the highly trained operational personnel of
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service provide a rapid,
professional response to this ‘New Dimension’ risk in conjunction
with our neighbouring Fire Service partners.
Specialist Rescue Unit (SRU)
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service’s Specialist Rescue Unit
(SRU) is based at West Hartford Community Fire Station. The SRU is
sent to emergencies across the county and is sometimes sent to
assist Fire and Rescue Services in neighbouring areas.
The types of emergencies which the SRU will attend include those
- Large Goods Vehicles (lorries, buses and vans)
- Trains or aircraft
- Multiple vehicle Road Traffic Collisions
- Any incidents requiring specialist rescues (for example, trench
or building collapse)
The SRU has up-to-date technical rescue equipment, which
- Heavy hydraulic rescue equipment
- Chain saws
- Grinding tools
- 40 tonne Airbags
- Shoring and supporting equipment for building collapse
- Winches for pulling or holding objects
- 50 tonne lifting jacks
- A working platform which allows two firefighters to work at
- Lighting units
Yes. Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service can provide
specialist Road Traffic Collision (RTC) training to other Fire and
Rescue Services and Ambulance Services. NFRS has an excellent
proven track record of providing RTC training.
Find out more about the RTC training
we can provide.
Swift Water Rescue Teams (SWRTs)
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has developed a
multi-layered approach to responding to flooding and providing
swift water rescue. Personnel are water rescue trained to a variety
- Level 1 - All fire and rescue responders are trained in water
- Level 2 - 52 personnel at Pegswood Community Fire Station and
10 personnel at Rothbury Community Fire Station are fully trained
and equipped as Water Rescue First Responders. They are able to
carry out wading rescues in still and flowing water.
- Level 3 – 3 specialist Swift Water Rescue Teams have been
created and strategically placed throughout the county - one in the
North (Berwick), one in the West (Hexham) and one in the South
(Pegswood). These teams have specialist training and equipment to
enable them to respond to emergencies within swift water, mud and
Northumberland is a large rural county with a number of
significant rivers and tributaries fed directly from geographical
catchment areas within Northumberland and bordering counties.
Northumberland has seen a rise in flooding incidents in recent
years, and this was highlighted with devastating effect in 2008
when a 1 in a 100 year flood occurred within the Morpeth area.
This trend continues year on year with major incidents becoming
common place in particular problem areas within the county. We have
created our Swift Water Rescue Teams and our multi-layered approach
to flood response to ensure that we are able and suitably trained
and prepared to deal with flooding emergencies that occur.
Each SWRT has a Mercedes Sprinter van which is equipped with
inflatable rescue boats powered by outboard motors, rescue lines
and equipment, inflatable rescue sleds and full Personal Protective
Wildfire Support Officers (WSOs) and Wildfire Unit
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has created a specialist
team of 10 Wildfire Support Officers (WSOs) to improve the way it
responds to wildfire incidents. The WSOs are all operational
supervisory managers who have received advanced wildfire training.
This training and continual professional development enables them
to attend wildfire incidents to act as Tactical Advisors and/or
Health and Safety Advisors to Incident Commanders, Sector
Commanders (who are in charge of an area of an incident), or carry
out specific tasks that requiring more advanced training.
The WSOs are trained in a number of skills and a range of
different tactics for wildfire incidents. They are all accomplished
map readers and navigators and are sometimes assigned as
Tactical/Health and Safety Lookouts, positioned on high vantage
points to observe and monitor an incident and the safety of
WSOs are also trained to assess and gather information about
fuel, weather and topography at and then to use this data, in
conjunction with a Wildfire Prediction System, to predict likely
fire behaviour and where the fire is likely to spread. This enables
WSOs to assess wildfire behaviour and to inform the Incident
Commander where firefighters can fight the fire safely and
effectively (windows of opportunity).
WSOs are also trained to:
- develop safe and effective Wildfire Suppression Plans
- implement Safety Protocols for Wildfire Incidents
- work as a Specialist Burn Team, which means they can be tasked
with using fire to remove fuel in front of an advancing fire
The Wildfire Support Officers (WSOs) and Wildfire Training
Officers (WTOs) have a range of specialist wildfire equipment,
- Long handle beaters, specially designed for Northumberland Fire
and Rescue Service
- Hand tools -including mattocks, rakes and pulasksis (which are
used to remove fuels to create control lines to prevent fire
- Knapsack sprayers - enabling them to carry water supplies to
- Drip torches - to enable them to set fires when using fire to
suppress a wildfire
The WSOs and WTOs work in very close partnership with a range of
local partnerships to share skills and equipment. For example:
- The Forestry Commission can provide us with specialist chainsaw
operators to work at wildfire incidents
- We have priority use of an Argocat provided by Defence Estates
and maintained by Landmarc. The Argocat is an 8 wheel drive vehicle
capable of driving off-road and pulling a trailer. The vehicle is
mounted with a fire fogging system, which provides a high density
fog/mist of water.
Wildfires behave differently to fires that occur within
buildings and vehicles. Consequently, firefighters and fire
officers need specialist knowledge to understand how a wildfire
will behave and spread over a particular area of land. In
combination with this, there are indications that wildfires have
become and will continue to be more prevalent and more destructive
in the UK.
There are two climate change predictions which could have
serious ramifications for wildfire occurrence in the UK as a whole
and, more specifically, in Northumberland:
- Firstly, it is predicted that winters will become milder which
could lead to a more rapid increase in fuel loads during the winter
- Secondly, it is predicted that summers will be warmer and drier
which will increase the likelihood of wildfires occurring and the
likelihood that they will spread making them more difficult to
Drier than normal conditions in recent years have already left a
profound mark on the UK as whole. The hottest April on record was
coupled with below average rainfall in April 2011 and this
contributed to the outbreak of 255 wildfires in the UK in just 2
Records also show that there were 1,000 wildfires per day in the
UK during April 2003. Northumberland has not been exempt from
experiencing some of these extreme wildfire events: in 2007 the
Harbottle wildfire burned 1,000 hectares of land, threatened a
rural village and local infrastructure, and damaged an area of rare
Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service needs to work to prevent,
prepare for and respond safely and effectively to wildfire
incidents. The Service therefore needs specially trained Wildfire
The Wildfire Support Officers (WSOs) and Wildfire Training
Officers (WTOs) currently maintain their burning skills by working
in collaboration with local landowners and Northumberland National
Park Authority to do prescribed burns for fuel management during
the burning season.
Our WSOs and WTOs work with landowners to do these burns safely
and effectively and to reduce the likelihood and potential impact
of wildfires that might occur during the summer months. By
completing these burns, the WSOs and WTOs also continually practise
a range of skills and techniques that they need when using fire as
a suppression tool at real wildfire incidents. This helps them to
maintain their operational readiness and effectiveness.
In addition to working with local partners, our WSOs also gather
knowledge from and share good practice with a range of
international partners. In recent years, our WSOs and WTOs have
worked closely with wildfire specialists in:
- South Africa
- United States of America
NFRS has also developed good working relationships with
organisations in northern Europe that are currently developing
their capability and understanding of wildfire, including
NFRS is committed to developing and nurturing these
relationships so that the Service can continue to develop new and
more effective techniques for fighting wildfires and managing
wildfire risk in Northumberland. This work helps NFRS to continue
to provide a high quality service to the people of Northumberland
and to maintain its position as the UK’s leading fire and rescue
service for wildfire training and operational policy issues.