Life-saving smoke hoods were used for the first time by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (HIWFRS) as part of a major training exercise.
The hoods are being rolled out across the service and are designed to be worn by the public as a last resort.
Each one provides a user with 15 minutes of breathable air, giving firefighters an extra resource when taking people through a smoke-filled area.
More than 55 firefighters took part in the exercise on Saturday (2 October) – designed to test HIWFRS’ ability to respond to a fire in a high-rise building, manage large-scale simultaneous incidents on both sides of the Solent and handle multiple 999 calls.
At the disused Leamington House, in Portsmouth, simulated smoke could be seen coming from a 12th floor window, prompting the arrival of crews from Southsea, Cosham, Havant, Hamble, Liphook, Sutton Scotney, Basingstoke, Botley, Headquarters, Hightown and Portchester.
When smoke was spotted coming from a higher floor, indicating that the fire had spread, firefighters began evacuating volunteers and the Fire Control room team began fielding multiple emergency calls.
Meanwhile at the former Weston Academy site in Totland, on the Isle of Wight, firefighters from Newport, Freshwater, East Cowes and Ryde, wore breathing apparatus to search the building after smoke could be seen coming from inside.
Colleagues from Hampshire Constabulary, South Central Ambulance Service and the local authorities also took part, demonstrating how services work together.
HIWFRS’ assistant director of policy and planning, Dave Turner, said:
“Training exercises like these are vital for firefighters, officers and our Control room crews because they allow us to test our procedures in realistic and challenging environments, ahead of any real-life emergency.
“In Portsmouth, firefighters faced a changeable scenario that involved going from a stay-put evacuation plan to a full evacuation. They used smoke hoods and tested out other new ways of working when dealing with a fire in a high-rise building.
“At the Weston Academy site our crews faced other challenges, including a report of a person trapped inside the building.
“The overall exercise was designed to test our ability to communicate effectively between the fire ground and the Control room, how we work with partnership agencies, the way we identify signs of a building not behaving as expected and how we record details around evacuations.
“As with all exercises, we will now evaluate how it went and identify what lessons can be learned for the future.”