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UK fire service diving team takes delivery of inflatable boat

Zodiac International : 09 October, 2013  (Application Story)
A WB-525 inflatable boat from Zodiac has been delivered to the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service to assist in the performance of underwater search and recovery missions
UK fire service diving team takes delivery of inflatable boat

Norfolk Fire and Rescue’s new Underwater Search and Recovery Unit (UWSAR) has just been equipped with an inflatable work boat from Zodiac MILPRO. The new WB-525 boat has become a vital piece of equipment for the nine-man dive team which can use it to gain access to any type of water where their services might be needed.

The Norwich-based search and recovery dive unit is unique for being the only one in Britain operated by a fire and rescue service. It has been created using funding from DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) as part of the UK government’s national Flood Resilience Enhancement Programme to provide a specialist resource deployable in the event of a major flood. In addition, as part of an increasing pattern of interoperability across the blue light services, the team regularly operates in support of police underwater operations.

The Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service divers have been trained in the skills needed by police divers such as search operations and the use of forensic recovery techniques. Because the divers are all working fire fighters they are additionally qualified to use hot and cold cutting tools that may be necessary to reach an accident victim. Team members are also specialist swift water rescue technicians and rescue boat operators. These skills, combined with their new Zodiac MILPRO inflatable boat, enable the team to meet DEFRA’s needs while also being available at cost to other organisations in Norfolk or elsewhere. The Norfolk team can consequently be called into action at a moment’s notice to work anywhere in Britain, and even in Europe, and can begin a search within 24 hours of being called.

The Norfolk UWSAR unit is led by Alan Nicholls who has many years of experience as a professional diver. His team is made-up of military, commercial and police-trained divers who bring a high degree of professionalism to the job. Their training in underwater forensic search techniques has been provided locally by police colleagues while police search team training has been provided at the Police College at Bramshill, Hampshire. In addition, advanced training in swift water diving gives them a range of expertise that enables them to operate in the most challenging conditions and they are consequently qualified to work in tidal or non-tidal waters in an area extending from the low water line to 12 miles offshore and at depths down to 50 metres. When this capability is combined with their skills as fire fighters the team probably represents one of the most versatile and highly trained civilian dive teams in the country.

The new Zodiac MILPRO WB-525 chosen to support the team has an overall length of 5.25 metres and is now a vital piece of equipment for the Norfolk UWSAR unit. It can be towed behind a 4WD vehicle and launched wherever the team’s services are needed. The boat is powered by a 40 hp outboard engine but is capable of being fitted with engines up to 55 hp. With a rigid floor and a heavy duty hypalon and neoprene tube consisting of six separate air chambers, the WB-525 can cope with fast flowing rivers and dangerous flood conditions to deliver the dive team quickly and safely to their search location. They may be required to look for evidence such as drugs and weapons or for missing persons who can be lifted into the boat by use of a special recovery cradle. The new boat can carry up to 12 people or a payload of 1500 kg so it easily carries the bank of large, heavy, air cylinders that are used for feeding the air-lines that enable the team’s divers to work underwater for many hours at a time if necessary.      

Norfolk’s UWSAR unit chose its new boat from a range of over sixty models available from Zodiac MILPRO. The company possibly has the world’s most famous name in inflatable boats and is headquartered in Paris and supplies its UK customers through its service centre in South Wales. Zodiac Milpro is known to have originated most of the major concepts that have driven the development of the modern inflatable boat from the 1930s. Since then, Zodiac Milpro has become the world’s principal manufacturer of inflatable and semi-rigid boats for professional and military applications with more than 20,000 boats in daily use by over 80 military forces across the globe. The company now has professional teams focused on supporting the most demanding military and professional customers and has ISO 9001 approved production facilities in Spain, Canada, UK and USA. Each location is staffed by experienced research and development, sales and marketing teams. With approved service centres in most parts of the world, Zodiac Milpro also has a network of trained specialists available to give assistance and support to customers and products.

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