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Specialist Response - Maritime Response
The Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) consists of 15 Local Authority Fire and Rescue Service teams working in partnership with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to provide an emergency fire and chemical incident response to ships at sea.
The teams are all made up of approximately 50 firefighters and officers who are specially trained and equipped to work safely at Sea. The teams are usually transported out to the vessel requesting assistance by Search and Rescue (SAR) Helicopters or other support ships. The incidents they attend are co-ordinated by the MCA from the nearest Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC). The MRCC task the nearest MIRG team and source the nearest and most appropriate transport to get the firefighters to the scene. The MIRG scheme has operated since April 2006 when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Chief Executive Officer of the MCA John Astbury and the Chief Fire Officers from the Fire and Rescue Services that provide the personnel and support for the 15 teams.
Link to MIRG website www.mirg.org.uk.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) has provided a firefighting resource for the MCA for many years and was delighted to be asked by the MCA to form one of the first MIRG teams which currently has 52 members. The team live and work close to the Gosport area so they can respond in good time to the Daedelus airfield at Lee-on-Solent where the team rendezvous with the SAR helicopters. The aircraft carry between 6 and 9 firefighters and 200 kilograms of equipment to the ship to support the ship’s crew deal with the emergency. The team can be backed up by further teams of MIRG resources as required, either flown out to the ship and winched on board or transported out to sea by ship and transferred to the ‘casualty’ vessel in various ways.
Fareham's Water Support Unit
Crews from Fareham Fire Station are the first line support for the MIRG team. They crew the Water Support Unit (WSU) which carries all the specialist equipment used by MIRG. They also provide vital logistical control for the team by supplying the communication link through to Fire Control and the MRCC during deployment. Crew members are trained and equipped to organise and control the embarkation of the teams onto the SAR helicopters. They ensure the correct Personal Protective Equipment is issued and worn by all MIRG team members and control the issuing and donning of equipment. They also liaise with the MIRG team and helicopter crew to supply and load all necessary firefighting and / or hazardous materials equipment required by the incident.
Embarkation load teams place equipment on board the SAR helicopter
The operational equipment taken out to the ship by the MIRG team has to be securely carried on the helicopter and must be capable of being winched quickly down on to the ship when the helicopter arrives at the scene. It is carried in specially designed ‘Helicopter Load Bags’ which are used by all of MIRG teams. They provide strong, weather protected containers that enable a rapid transfer of equipment from the fire appliances at the embarkation point via the helicopter to the ship. All standard loads are pre-determined and carefully weighed to enable the helicopter crew to determine the aircraft fuel requirement for the mission. Most of the operational equipment is taken from the responding fire appliances and when not required by the MIRG team is used on a regular basis at operational incidents on land.
MIRG Helicopter load bag and equipment ready to load
The MCA has provided all MIRG teams with a number of sets of Personal Protective Equipment, to ensure that should a MIRG team member enter the sea during transportation they will be adequately protected until they can be recovered.
Just after winching aboard – a MIRG firefighter in Personal Protective Equipment
This includes thermal under garments to maintain body heat in cold sea water. The firefighter also wears a water proof immersion suit to keep the wearer dry and warm and a Life Jacket that can be used in manual operation mode (for aircraft transportation) or automatic mode for ship transfers and transport. The MIRG personnel are also assisted by Personal Location Beacons, to help rescuers locate a wearer in the sea, perhaps even in darkness and a small breathing apparatus to enable an easier escape from a ‘ditched helicopter’ should that unlikely event occur.
In addition to the skills required by firefighters attending emergencies on land, MIRG team members are specially trained for their role at sea. This includes studying a number of subject areas specific to ships, such as ‘Ship Construction’ and ‘Ship Stability’. The team also need to be able to operate all elements of their Personal Protective Equipment and need to able to survive in the sea should an unplanned event occur. They practice helicopter safety and winching, helicopter under water escape, sea survival, use of Marine Band radio and firefighting tactics, strategies and techniques specific to shipping.
Practical firefighting training takes place at HFRS Training Centre at Eastleigh and using ‘Flagship Training’ facilities at Whale Island in Portsmouth.
Practical Ship Fire Training at Flagship Portsmouth
Exercises are held regularly testing all elements of training and enabling the MIRG team to practice working together with the MCA, SAR helicopter crews and ship’s personnel in very realistic conditions.
Ops Commander liaises with Ships Master and Coastguard Liaison Officer on the Bridge during an exercise