Scots ISAR team praise resilience and generosity of the people of Morocco

After returning from the earthquake zone in Morocco, two firefighters from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service say the resilience and generosity of the people they helped will stay with them.

Dog handler Crew Commander Gary Carroll, search dog Coorie, and Watch Commander Gavin Brown are back at work in Scotland after a period of rest following their week long operation in the North African country.

The trio joined the international search and rescue (ISAR) team as part of the UK Government's response to the Morocco earthquake. They also provided humanitarian aid as well as restoring infrastructure.

two firefighters wearing black uniforms standing on a airport runway at night with a service dog

This was Crew Commander Carroll’s fourth operation but his first one with Coorie, who graduated earlier this year from the National Fire Chiefs Council's national resilience training pathway and assessment. This means that the two-year-old Malinois Belgian Shephard can operate as part of the UK ISAR and can help search in collapsed structures.

The extreme temperatures in the country presented challenges but as CC Carroll explains, Coorie adapted well. He said: "We were there to provide a search and rescue capability in the first instance and then to provide humanitarian aid to people living in mountain villages, as well as carry out site assessments, survey buildings and give first aid.

"Coorie's had lots of first time experiences in this deployment, from waiting in the airport to interacting with the wider UK ISAR team that we were a part of. He then had to travel in the military aircraft to Morocco before being taken up into the mountains in a truck. So he was exposed to lots of new noises and smells, but dealing with the pretty warm temperature there was the most challenging. However, when I asked him to search he did it no problem."

It wasn't just Coorie's first operation with ISAR, Watch Commander Brown was also joining the team overseas for the first time, putting into practice the training he completes on a monthly basis in preparation. He realised what their efforts meant to local people after a particular animal rescue.

He said: "I was part of a team removing debris from a partially collapsed building where a donkey was trapped in the basement. For some villagers, a donkey is a major part of day to day life and work, transporting things around for people. The animal belonged to an elderly gentleman and rescuing the donkey was a really big deal for him.”

Gary and Gavin both agree that the spirit of the local people will stay with them.

Gary said: “It was amazing to see how people got on with their daily life and how generous and friendly they were after such horrible circumstances. It was really pleasing to see a thank you sign at the side of the road that had been made for us.”

Gavin added: "To give an example, there was a stockpile of food and water but people didn't take any more than what they needed, just enough to get by. The whole experience just restores your faith in humanity."

The trio spent more than a week in Morocco as part of the UK International Search and Rescue Team comprising of 62 expert members trained to provide technical support.

Crew Commander Gary Carroll and Coorie are based at Portlethen and Watch Commander Gavin Brown is Dundee based.