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, vehicles 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, the County.

This page presents information about the specialist teams and units that we have in Northumberland. You can also download our guide to read more about the vehicles, specialist teams and specialist units that we have in Northumberland.  

Fire Control

Photograph of the Emergency Fire Control Centre at West Hartford

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 during incidents.
  • Mobilising additional resources and equipment to incidents, as required.
  • 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 station which:

  • 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:

  • Location
  • 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 radio systems.

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 emergency incident.

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
  • Ambulance
  • Police
  • 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 emergency incidents.

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 calls.

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 alarms section.

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 about the new Emergency Fire Control Centre, please click here to view a press release issued on 12th December 2013.

Alternatively, please contact the Project Manager: Rob Clow on 01670 621134 or e-mail Robin.Clow@northumberland.gov.uk

Fire Investigation Officers

Following a fire, an investigation may be required to determine the cause. Our team of specialist fire investigators are trained to carry out detailed fire scene examinations that will help determine what happened. They will look for evidence such as charred remains, glass fragments, electrical wiring and ignitable liquids. This information can tell them how the fire started, how the fire spread and what could have happened prior to and during ignition.

We need the information obtained from an investigation to:

  • Establish the most likely cause of ignition and to identify any trends/defects that led to ignition
  • Understand how the fire and smoke developed and spread
  • Inform interested parties (owners, relatives, coroner, Police, insurance companies) as to the cause of the fire
  • Assist in any criminal proceedings to help bring offenders to Court by providing expert testimony
  • Validate the effectiveness of fire safety measures
  • Provide accurate information for targeting Community Safety resources and activities

A specialist fire investigator is not required at every incident as the cause of some fires may be obvious and not believed to be suspicious (for example, a chip-pan full of oil left unattended on a cooker). In such cases, the fire fighters on scene will carry out the investigation.

However our specialist fire investigation officers will attend:

  • All fatal or serious injury fires
  • All fires where the Police request an investigation
  • Any fire where the cause is not easily apparent or possibly deliberate
  • Fires involving explosions, radio-active material or dangerous substances
  • Fires where there may have been a breach in Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, or there has been an unexplained failure of fire safety provisions
  • Any fire of special interest

Our specialist officers will work with a number of agencies when conducting investigations including: Police, Scenes of Crime, Health and Safety Executive, Building & Fire Research and insurance companies.

All of our Fire Investigation Officers receive continuous training throughout their career. This training is provided both in-house and by external training providers. The training we provide ensures that our fire investigators are able to develop and maintain their skills and are continually informed of any new developments in the field of fire investigation.

Along with classroom-based training sessions, we also provide practical training to enable our officers to practise their fire investigation skills. These practical training sessions use metal shipping containers to reconstruct real fire scenes.

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 Training Exercises.

  • 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 pumping equipment.
  • 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 mass decontamination.

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 Fighters
  • Gas tight suits
  • Radiation monitors
  • Portable lighting units
  • Disrobe and re-robe packs for casualties for before and after decontamination
Image of a decontamination tent

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.

Yes. Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service provides a range of hazardous materials training to other organisations, including Fire, Ambulance and Police Services and Industrial Emergency Teams.

Find out more about the specialist hazardous materials training that we can provide.

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 involving:

  • 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 includes:

  • 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 height safely
  • 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 of levels.

Level 1        All fire and rescue responders are trained in Water Awareness
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 ice.

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 Equipment.

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 firefighting personnel.

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
What they do

The Wildfire Support Officers (WSOs) and Wildfire Training Officers (WTOs) have a range of specialist wildfire equipment, including:

  • 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 spread)
  • Knapsack sprayers - enabling them to carry water supplies to remote areas
  • 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:

  1. Firstly, it is predicted that winters will become milder which could lead to a more rapid increase in fuel loads during the winter months; and,
  2. 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 control.

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 days.

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 peat bog.

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 Support Officers.

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:

  • France
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • 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 organisations in:

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden

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.

Yes. Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service provides a range of specialist wildfire training courses aimed at fire fighters through to Incident Commanders. We have an excellent proven track record for this training.

Find out more about the specialist wildfire training we can provide.