Teddington RNLI crew takes part in Exercise Heron
On Saturday 5 March, both of Teddington Lifeboat Station’s D Class lifeboats took part in Exercise Heron, one of the largest multi-agency exercises on the Thames in many years.
The incident was a simulated collision just downstream of Hampton Court Bridge between Thames Venturer, a 90-foot Dutch barge owned by local charity, River Thames Boat Project, and Our Lad, a tug part-owned and skippered by Teddington Lifeboat crew member, Tom Lee.
On the day, Venturer was skippered and crewed by Teddington Lifeboat crew members (skipper was crew Gunnar Christensen, who also works for the River Thames Boat Project). Venturer was carrying 20 ‘casualties’ below decks, all Teddington Lifeboat new crew, water safety team members or fundraisers, along with volunteers from River Thames Boat Project. Before the ‘collision’, all those below deck had casualty make-up (moulage) expertly applied by Teddington Lifeboat helm, Tim James.
Above decks, eight Surrey Fire and Rescue firefighters in full PPE underneath their t-shirts and jeans played the part of partygoers and, along with some rescue dummies, ended up in the water around the time of the collision at 2pm.
Command posts were swiftly set up on both sides of the Thames, on the Hampton Court Palace side by London Fire Brigade, and on the Surrey side, by Surrey Fire and Rescue who were joined by local Ambulance Services South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAMB) and the London Ambulance Service (LAS), Surrey Police, Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance (HEMS), the London Ambulance Service Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) and drone teams from both Fire Services and Police.
Teddington Lifeboat Station’s D Class lifeboats were joined on the water by units from Surrey Fire and Rescue and London Fire Brigade as they searched for ‘casualties’, extracted them from the water and assessed the situation onboard Venturer. A field hospital was established by SECAMB and after casualties were assessed on Venturer by members of the HART and HEMS teams, they were brought shoreside for triage and treatment.
The exercise was ‘live’ for two and a half hours at the end of which the river in the collision area had been fully searched and the boats cleared of casualties, all of whom had been treated shoreside.
Jon Chapman, Teddington Lifeboat helm and assessor trainer, who, with helm Toby Banks, was the RNLI lead organiser for Exercise Heron commented: ‘We came up with this idea, along with Simon Edwards from Surrey Fire and Rescue, in September last year, had to postpone once due to Covid so it was amazing to see everything come together like this with a spectacular turn-out from our partner emergency services agencies.
‘We’ll be analysing the outcomes over the coming days and this will lead to a safer and more effective response to any future major incident on the Thames in our area of operation. It has been fantastic for all at Teddington Lifeboat Station to be involved in Exercise Heron.
I would like to end with a huge thanks to all who took part, many giving up their precious Saturday afternoons, and also to the Environment Agency and their area lead, Vince Hoare, for all their assistance and advice, including closing the river during the exercise, to the River Thames Boat Project, to Kingston Grammar School for the huge amount of help they have given us throughout, including use of their grounds and boathouse, and to another of our partners, Surrey Search and Rescue, for providing safety boat cover on the day.’
Simon Edwards, Surrey Fire and Rescue Borough Commander, Spelthorne, and Operational Lead for Water Rescue, commented: ‘Exercise Heron presented a rare opportunity for all agencies to test their ability to respond to the challenges of rescuing and treating large numbers of people from the water. What it proved is the professionalism and skill our Emergency Services display when confronted with a crisis.
‘I would like to express my admiration for the incredible efforts made by the RNLI crews on the day, carrying out more than twenty rescues of casualties from the water as well as recovering injured ‘casualties’ from boat to shore.
‘My thanks to Jon Chapman and Toby Banks from the RNLI, Fin Howard Stevens from SECAMB, Steve McGhie from LFB and Dave Richardson from Surrey Police for their support in putting the exercise together. I look forward to the continued growth in relationship between SFRS and RNLI to ensure the safety of the public whilst using the Thames.’
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.
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