Scottish Fire and Rescue Service's UKISAR team in Nepal (from left to right) John Aitchison, Danny Gall, Steve Nicoll, Garry Caroll & Diesel, Martin Vardy and Martyn Ferguson.
All six of Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s (SFRS) specialist UK International Search and Rescue team members who went to help the people of Nepal following the country’s devastating earthquake have returned home safely.
Five members of the team arrived back in Aberdeen on Wednesday and the final member, dog handler Gary Caroll and search dog Diesel, returned on Friday.
The first members of the team to return on Wednesday were met by Deputy Assistant Chief Officer (DACO) and Head of Service Delivery for SFRS in the North, Andy Coueslant and delighted members of their families.
The six SFRS firefighters who travelled to Nepal to help the search and rescue mission were Martin Vardy from Aberdeen, Martyn Ferguson from Turriff, Aberdeenshire, John Aitchison from Gourdon near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Gary Caroll from Torphins, near Banchory and Danny Gall from Kirriemuir and Steve Nicoll from Forfar, Angus.
SFRS’s firefighters formed part of the UK Government’s more than 60-strong UKISAR (UK International Search and Rescue) team sent to assist with recovery efforts in Nepal. Drawn from 15 UK Fire and Rescue Services across the UK, the search and rescue teams were deployed to Nepal by the Department for International Development.
The UKISAR team is made up of four trained search dogs and their handlers, seven rescue crews, a hazardous materials specialist, doctors and command and control experts. Their skills include locating deeply buried victims, constructing timber supports to safely shore up buildings and providing advanced life support.
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Chief Officer Alasdair Hay travelled to Aberdeen today (Monday 11 May 2015) to join DACO Andy Coueslant in congratulating the team upon their safe return.
SFRS Board Members Sid Patten and Marieke Dwarshuis also attended the event in Aberdeen to show their support.
Chief Officer Hay commented: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is extremely proud of each and every one of the UKISAR team that volunteered to help the people of Nepal following the devastating earthquake.
“Our UKISAR firefighters are highly trained to deal with scenarios like the Nepalese earthquake and not only am I delighted that they were able to provide crucial support to the people of Nepal, but also that they have all returned home safely.
“I would also like to thank their families for their support. They displayed patience and understanding around the importance of the role their family members were being asked to carry out, despite understandable concerns for their safety.
“Our thoughts are also with the people of Nepal as they continue to deal with the aftermath of this tragic event and the huge numbers of lives lost as a result of the earthquake.”
SFRS Board Chair Pat Watters said: “We should be very proud of the team and proud that we have such a highly skilled workforce who can respond to provide vital and potentially life-saving support in the event of a crisis, even on the other side of the world.
“They have made a real difference and will no doubt reflect now on that experience which is something that for most of us is very hard to imagine, such was the scale of devastation.”
These highly trained search and rescue experts have put their own lives at risk to help those affected by this terrible earthquake. Scotland can feel immensely proud of these brave men who have been carrying out crucial, life-saving work as part of the British response.”
Since the earthquake that hit near Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu, 39 out of 75 districts have been affected and at least 46 aftershocks felt.
The UK International Search and Rescue team deployed by the Department for International Development (DFID) has been playing a key role in the relief effort:
- A 4-year-old girl with a serious leg injury was evacuated to a field hospital for ongoing treatment and a young boy’s broken arm was treated using a plastic bottle as a splint
- The remnants of an overhanging brick column have now been successfully removed from a teaching hospital by the team and a temporary measure to improve the stability of the water tank put in place
- Other work at the hospital is nearly complete and repairs will allow 10 operating theatres and 800 beds to be put back into use
- Members of the UKISAR team have been travelling out to remote areas of Nepal such as the Sindupalchok district to undertake needs assessments
- Helicopters have allowed the team access to remote villages allowing vital work to continue
- Injured residents of these villages were triaged and given first aid treatment by UKISAR medical teams
- The team operating in Sindupalchok area cleared the main road which had been blocked
- The team identified a hydropower plant that was incapacitated due to the earthquake and sent a request for engineers to conduct repair work which would then provide power to Chautara Valley.
Dog handler, Gary Caroll, 44, lives in Torphins, Aberdeenshire. He grew up in East Kilbride where he went to Hunter High School. Nepal has been his third search and rescue deployment - he also went to Sumatra in Indonesia (2009) and Christchurch in New Zealand (2011) after their major earthquakes.
Gary’s search and rescue dog Diesel (male) is a 5-year old springer spaniel. Nepal was Diesel’s first deployment.
Gary said: “It was all a rush when the call came. I was looking forward to being able to help people and putting the training Diesel’s had into action.
“On the ground we’ve seen total destruction in some of the outlying areas of Nepal - most buildings are affected in some way. I saw a lot of buildings that have collapsed. We’ve also seen buildings partially collapsed and landslides. A lot of people are under tents or covers because they are too scared to be in the buildings.
“Diesel and I were tasked to search two buildings. Diesel worked well - he covered the whole area and did what he was trained to do.”
Gary added: “Diesel has coped well in Nepal - he’s stayed calm and relaxed. He was fine on the plane over and generally being here doesn’t seem to have fazed him - he’s just the same as at home. He got his fur clipped a few weeks ago during an exercise in France so he was ready to cope with the heat.
“Working with a dog is very rewarding and they can make a difference to our work. For example the dogs can help identify casualties, which are an extra tool for the team.”
Gary said that when he sends Diesel into a building he’s always concerned he could get injured, commenting, “That’s the job. We always size up a building before we send the dogs in and always give them a good check-up after a search.
“I owned Diesel’s mum so I’ve known Diesel since he was born. I kept him and his brother and trained them both for a year before choosing Diesel to carry on training with. His high play drive makes him a great search and rescue dog.
“We’ve got a very close bond. We’ve been through this together - I’m looking out for him and I think he’s looking out for me.”
The UKISAR team provides specialised expert search and rescue support in collapsed buildings, confined spaces and in largely populated areas. It responds overseas to sudden onset disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis on behalf of the Department for International Development.
UKISAR is one of 27 United Nations classified Search and Rescue teams from across the world and responds to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis. Previous UKISAR deployments include Iraq, Turkey, Algeria, Pakistan, India, Iran, Mozambique, Indonesia, Haiti, New Zealand, Japan and Bosnia.
The UK is playing a leading role in responding to the Nepal earthquake and is currently the largest donor to the relief operation.