Calder Valley Search and Rescue column: Providing help when flooding strikes

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When Calder Valley Moorland Rescue Association was formed in 1966, it could not have been envisaged that the team’s role would evolve to providing a nationally recognised swiftwater rescue capability, working alongside the statutory emergency services and deploying across the north of England.

At first the need for a water rescue capability started from humble beginnings for the current team. We were often tasked with searching along water margins for missing persons.

In response to this, the team needed to protect our members and we purchased some basic water safety equipment and with regular flooding in Mytholmroyd during the 1990s, the team needed to consider more seriously our ability to support the community and emergency services.

With repeated flooding in Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, Calder Valley Search and Rescue committed more funds to strengthen our capability, in particular our ability to provide a resource that was recognised to a national level and would benefit other emergency services.

This training was fully tested when our swiftwater rescue team were deployed to Cumbria to assist multiple agencies from across the country with the widespread flooding caused by Storm Desmond in December 2015. During a gruelling 28 hours, our members were tasked with evacuating residents from Appleby and the Warwick Road area of Carlisle. Eventually the team members returned to the Calder Valley to reflect on their experiences and the heartbreaking sights.

As with all call-outs, our equipment was thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and dried ready for the next deployment which sadly was on our doorstep when the devastating Boxing Day floods ripped through the Calder Valley.

Working alongside fire and rescue services and the coastguard, the team were tasked with evacuating residents whilst the brutality of nature devastated the valley. With equipment still wet and the clean up locally just commencing, Calder Valley Search and Rescue water rescue team members were called out again to assist fellow rescue teams in York with further flooding.

Following the floods of December 2015, Calder Valley Search and Rescue felt it was necessary to commit further funding to train members to a higher level and also to purchase specialist equipment including a boat and trailer, specialist rescue sled, dry suits, lighting, waterproof radio communications, overnight rations and support bags, plus decontamination kits to allow the members to maintain safe operating conditions whilst on long deployments.

During 2016 alone, Calder Valley Search and Rescue invested approximately £13,000 and now have 11 swiftwater rescue technicians (SRT’s) and a further 12 first responders to provide bankside support to our SRTs in the event of future flooding. In recent weeks, the water team was deployed for 24 hours to Scarborough to work along side fellow mountain rescue teams, RNLI and the fire service as a tidal surge threatened to flood coastal communities. Thankfully the threat passed with minor localised flooding.

Locally we are always keen to build stronger links with agencies and organisations such as the Environment Agency and the Calderdale flood wardens and acknowledge the vital role they play.

During February 2017, Calder Valley Search and Rescue teamed up with approximately 30 flood wardens at The Rescue Post in Mytholmroyd to provide a water safety awareness training session focusing on the importance of decontamination after exposure to dirty floodwater and the risks of a flooded environment i.e. understanding that sewage, fuel and other effluents are all present in floodwater and that regular everyday items can become potentially dangerous during flooding.

Real-time, first hand information from flood wardens provides vital intelligence on a rapidly changing environment and they also help to provide the public with much needed assistance and reassurance.

There is no denying that flooding is devastating, but it highlights the true strength and resilience of communities who come together and support each other in times of need.

Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team remains committed to being a part of that support.