East of England Ambulance Service and HART Team attend mock major incident exercise

Anyone in and around Felixstowe on Sunday (September 15) may have been slightly alarmed at the amount of emergency vehicles heading to the port. But they will have been relieved to find out that there hadn’t been any sort of incident, instead the cause for the emergency services presence was Exercise Dooley; a multi-agency exercise which took place at Felixstowe Port.

The purpose of Exercise Dooley was for agencies to practice their partnership working and test their resources in a mock scenario, in order to be best prepared for a major incident – and the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) had several personnel and resources involved.

The situation was dramatic, but believable. An explosion had taken place on a container ship which was just docking at the port. It wasn’t known what had caused the explosion, so it was necessary to treat it as a potentially hazardous substance.

First on scene were the Felixstowe Port fire and rescue crew who liaised with the passengers on the ship who were beginning to disembarked, and asked them to stay back on the entrance of the ship, in case they had been contaminated by whatever substance had caused the explosion. They crew called for back-up and were soon joined by their colleagues from both Suffolk and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Services, and several crews from EEAST, including the EEAST Hazardous Area Response Team (HART). A police Chemical Biological Radioactive and Nuclear (CBRN) team was also in attendance, along with the coast guard and environmental agencies.

Decontamination tents were set up and passengers were given disrobe suits to help minimise the risk of contamination. The police, fire, and EEAST HART then entered the ship wearing gas tight suits in order to search for further, possibly injured, people. Five casualties in total were found near the source of the explosion, and were rescued from the ship by emergency services, before being treated and decontaminated.

A debrief then followed where the agencies gave their feedback on what worked, what didn’t work, and how they could potentially work better together at exercises and incidents in the future.

Craig King, a Resillience Manager for EEAST in Suffolk, said: “Exercises such as this are a great way of putting our training into practice. No matter how much learning you do in a classroom environment, nothing can compare to being in a lifelike situation where there are people acting as multiple casualties who require treatment, while working in a potentially hazardous environment. It was also a good chance to test our equipment such as our gas tight suits, our breathing apparatus, and our decontamination suite. The logistics involved in bringing all the necessary components for such an incident into play at the right time and in the right.

“All emergency services worked well together and the exercise taught us a great deal which we can put into practice in the future.”

Find out more about EEAST’s resilience and special operations.