Our guest bloggers from Wells Life Saving Club provide an insight into an international visit to Germany.

The annual USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) event organised by THW (www.thw-jugend.de) is taking place between 25th July and 2nd August. Eleven youth lifesavers from Wells Life Saving Club, led by Liz Mapstone of Wells Life Saving Club and Ellen Moore Head of Volunteer Engagement, RLSS UK have joined youth members from rescue organisations across Europe including clubs from Germany (THW), Icleand (ICE-SAR), Turkey (AYADER) and Russia (Russian Union of Rescuers). They are learning valuable urban rescue techniques and skills and how to work with international counterparts in a simulated disaster situation.

USAR 2013 Day 1:

Day 1 of USAR 2013 shared by Will and Imogen from Wells Life Saving Club.

After a short flight on an exclusive ‘caravan with wings’, 13 of us arrived at Hannover Airport and, with very little introduction, were whisked away in two minibuses (fitted with sirens and flashing lights) to our home for the next 10 days in Osterholz.

As we opened the doors to our ‘military style’ room, we discovered that we would be sharing with some of our German platoon members.

The next day, after an early breakfast, we took part in ‘icebreaker’ activities, which were made up of lots of team games, a basic language lesson to help us get to know the rest of our platoon followed by a basic language lesson to help defeat the language barrier. That evening, each country had prepared their own presentation about their organisation. Tommy and Poppy gave our (Wells Lifesaving Club) presentation and did us proud, delivering with confidence – as well as a Somerset accent!

Later we gathered together again to create another presentation which this time was on the history of our country. However, this afternoon it was time to hit a local pool accompanied by fellow participants -a definite highlight – diving boards, a flume and rain!

USAR 2013 Day 2:

Day 2 of USAR 2013 shared by Elliot and Pheobe from Wells Life Saving Club.

Last night we put our kit on for the first time – the coveralls, helmets, boots and gloves for the handover of our technical equipment.

We had to label all the equipment on the trucks so that everyone in the platoon knew what the equipment was and where to find it. We are looking forward to using the hammer drill and it was funny when I (Phoebe) was put into a harness and slung over the shoulder of one of the drivers.

After breakfast this morning we put on all our kit, lined up and went off to the Leadership and Structure session. We had already learned some of this in the RLSS UK’s Survive and Save Programme.

A language session followed where the Germans taught us some important German phrases ready for the incident, for example, “Are you ok?” and ”Shout to me if you can hear.” To finish we played a game of charades.

There was a change in the programme so this afternoon we learned how to carry casualties on a variety of stretchers over an army assault course. We got allocated our vehicles which all had sirens and flashing lights which made it very exciting in the convoy of 18 rescue vehicles.

Our favourite stretcher was the rescue basket used for rescuing casualties from confined spaces – it is a cross between a car seat and a tin can with a pad that squashes the side of your face!

Even though we were sweating like pigs and drinking carton after carton of water it was an enjoyable and gave us an insight into carrying casualties to safety, over the four hours of training. It was like nothing we had ever done before and helped us prepare for the incident ahead.

We asked some of our new German friends how they would describe us and these are our favourites:

“Great, friendly“
“Very nice, funny, crazy“
“Very cool, we love you“

We did feel a bit sorry for Luke, the RLSS UK Trainer Assessor who is running some of the First Aid

sessions. The language barrier created a bit of a challenge but it will get better I am sure! Tomorrow

we have sessions on Breaking and breaching and the movement of heavy loads.

USAR 2013 Day 3

Day 3 of USAR 2013 shared by Tom and Imogen from Wells Life Saving Club.

The day started off with a bang at 3.30am for which we were exquisitely grateful for!  In our finest Dickies overalls and with our equipment we charged at full throttle towards our vehicles and it was at this time that we realised how overwhelmingly early it really was.

Despite being the first platoon ready, frustratingly we were notified that we would be the last to leave meaning that we had over an hour to kill.  During this “time of emergency” we had no choice but to simply watch the most sassy sunrise and talk utter rubbish amongst ourselves.

We finally left at 5am and were shortly greeted at Customs Officers, as we entered Zernia, with a rather hostile reception.  We were ordered out of our trucks and informed that is was a very serious situation however it’s safe to say that the whole platoon found it very difficult to keep a straight face, as we saw our former instructors and leaders in a whole new light (and in British Army uniforms).

After another hour’s drive we finally arrived at our scenario which involved a large pile of rubble, and a small concrete tower with a tunnel network beneath it.  It was our task to search and rescue casualties using the appropriate techniques.  We accomplished this with great style, and thankfully the Dickies overalls kept us looking good as we did so; admittedly we did end up with a ‘bleeding baby’ – a sandbag which started to leak as we dragged it out rather than putting it on a stretcher.

It was then time for lunch which consisted of ration packs used by the army – delicious as expected.  After lunch it was our turn to deal with a collapsed orphanage.  We did this quickly, finding 12 babies and 1 injured person.  However, our excitement at finishing was short-lived, as we were just about to pack up when another man came running over telling us that there was more to the situation than we first thought.  We discovered a train wreck which had yet another 3 casualties who needed help.  After dealing with this we were ready to pack and return to ‘our home’ for a shower but to our dismay the day was not yet finished.

Another ‘earthquake’ had struck giving us another 2 piles of rubble to search.  After finding 2 more babies and rescuing yet another injured person from a tunnel all we wanted to do was to head home.  However, there was still one casualty to find and the tiredness and hunger of the platoon was taking its toll.  Nearly everyone wanted to give up, but we carried on and finally finished to our relief.  We packed up the trucks and went back to the base for some much needed rest.

That evening we said ‘goodbye’ to our platoon member, Glen who headed home after tea.  He will be missed but we look forward to seeing him when he visits family members in England.

USAR 2013 Day 4

Day 3 of USAR 2013 shared by Poppy and Emily from Wells Life Saving Club

After another sound night’s sleep, we made our way to the dining room where we enjoyed another continental breakfast.  We then promptly went to morning line-up, where we sang “Happy Birthday” to one of our German room-mates, Milly.

The main surprise of the line-up though was being greeted by Tommy wearing the German THW uniform – he had swapped with Glen, one of the Germans from our platoon.

Afterwards we swiftly made our way over to our vehicles and departed for our heavy lifting training. This involved two members of the platoon at a time pulling an 18-tonne truck along using only a wire rope and a grip hoist.  We also learnt how to lift heavy items (a tractor) using a hydraulic lift.  We then went back to base for lunch and soon returned to our training ground for breaking and breeching.

Here we smashed up concrete blocks using tools such as a demolition hammer and hydraulic spreaders and cutters.  We also learned how to cut holes to access a tunnel so that we could rescue people.  When we finished we drove back for tea and evening activities.

In the evening there was an international tug-of-war competition where Britain after a challenging match against Iceland, were triumphant.  During the course of this activity unfortunately a number of British participants were thrown in the paddling pools (inflatable water tanks) by members of the platoon. Overall this was another enjoyable day where we all learnt a lot.

We still didn’t get to do First Aid – the programme keeps changing!

USAR 2013 Day 5

Louis and Fergus from Wells Life Saving Club share day 4 of USAR 2013 with us.

We were greeted by a quiet Elliot this morning but after a snooze on the bus to Hamburg he soon perked up!

The trip to Hamburg took about an hour and a half which gave Tommy plenty of time to crack on with his book. We got a good deal on the trip and visited one of Hamburg’s fire stations. We got a tour of the station and looked around the fire engines and all the rescue equipment a lot of which we recognised from the THW vehicles.

The highlight of the day had to be going up on the platform which went over 30m into the air – we had a brilliant view of the city.

We then got lost on the trip from the fire station to the THW office in Hamburg so arrived fashionably late.

We were then put into international groups for the scavenger hunt and spent most of the time on the train getting answers as we went into town.

Fergus – I was with many other members of the English – German Platoon and we visited a well known burger chain and enjoyed chips dipped into ice-cream. We also went window shopping in a clothes shop before visiting a strange shop which sold Asian furniture and origami supplies.  A couple of people may get postcards once we are back.

Louis – Rather than facing shopping I joined the Turkish Platoon and we started off buying some food but then ended up in a clothes shop with freaky manikins (they had eyes).  We did lose a couple of members but met up with them again at the main square.

We then got on the police bus for what seemed to be a never ending journey. By the time we got back it was time for supper!

Ellen Moore RLSS UK’s Head of Volunteer Engagement who is supporting Liz Mapstone with training on the exchange has shared with what she was up on Day 4.

This morning I lead the trip of Romanians and 1 German to the DLRG diving rescue team in Hamburg.  During the visit there was an emergency call so we saw them leap into action.  We finished our visit with a trip on the rescue boat around the harbour.

Meanwhile, Liz went to the German equivalent of the St John’s Ambulance but Luke had the best day – a visit to the final exercise venue, freedom in Hamburg and a curry!

USAR 2013 Day 6

Day 5 of USAR 2013 shared with us

After breakfast for our first session of the day we did rescuing from heights. We separated into our two platoon groups under the command of our acting-up Platoon Leader, Tommy as Jan was ill.

We learnt how to put up a ladder in different situations such as vertically so that we could then rescue a person from a building through the window using a ladder and the basket stretcher. We also had a visit from the Head Ranger of the British Army, who came with his two beautiful dogs. At the next station we learned another way to do this, and then my group put Sarah in the rescue basket and lowered her down from the window which was very scary.

We packed all the kit away and travelled back to the THW base to have lunch after which we had first aid training. We learnt the recovery position, and the treatment of bleeding, broken bones, choking. All of it was very similar to what we knew but the training was less thorough. We also thought the chest compression rate the Romanian Doctor used was a little fast.

To end the session we had to do a huge scenario with lots of casualties including some unconscious and not breathing, others with open fractures, cuts, broken wrist and bleeding leg and one casualty who then became unconscious and not breathing.  At the de-brief with the trainers, one of the points they raised was that it was good that we already knew everything but that we needed to practise teamwork.

Some quotes from the day:

Jan:  ‘sleeping, sleeping, shower, sleeping, sleeping’
‘I think Tommy a good man’

Michael (one of the drivers):  ‘Nice day’

Will: ‘Tommy handled an excitable crowd extremely well’

Tommy: ‘I am exquisitely disappointed that the English don’t know how to sweep up!  Lessons available!’

USAR 2013 Day 7

Sarah and Phoebe from Wells Life Saving Club share day 6 of USAR 2013 with us as a poem.

Our last training day began,
under the hot German sun,
we got in formation,
then made our way to our destination,
the group had split,
we all attempted to act fit,
after hanging like monkey’s on a wire,
we sweated while rolling a tyre,
Saving Imogen from a height,
with time schedules that were tight,
The sun continued to shine but we were all fine,
apart from Louis, who had to surrender,
and ended up on a stretcher,
with water in hand,
it became a struggle to stand,
After lunch the games began,
and in the pool be tried to tan,
Elliot turned a nice shade of red,
By 9 we were all in bed.

USAR 2013 Final Day

The last day of USAR 2013 shared with us by Elliott from Wells Life Saving Club.

It was our last full day that we could spend with our newly made friends, we got up at 7.00am  as usual to have an early breakfast and were informed about our trip to Heidlepark  theme park, about 40 minutes from our camp. After getting our things together we lined up by our cars for the last time and sadly said goodbye to some of our drivers that we going home. We had got to know them so well over the days we had spent driving from place to place.

After a short drive we arrived at Hidlepark and swiftly moved to the big rollercoaster’s. We went on the Kracken which had a huge inverted drop: Scream which dropped us so fast the people queuing were blasted by a gust of air! We also tried the Colossus, the largest wooden roller coaster in Europe and the steepest drop for a wooden roller coaster in the world at an incredible 61 degrees.

When we got back from the theme park we had dinner before we all met at the First Aid Training Room where we had our closing ceremony where we all got certificates and USAR 2013 caps. We traded shirts with our German friends. During the presentation, were we told how tough we were and that our girls despite being small had been surprisingly strong!

After all this we had a huge party with NO curfew!!  Our platoon leader Jan was the DJ for the evening. Our leaders Ellen and Liz left us to spend the last few hours with our new friends.