Firefighters have used a high-tech device that can cut through concrete and steel – reducing the risk to them of death and injury - to spearhead a dramatic live training exercise in South Tyneside.
Fire teams put the Cobra cold-cutting equipment, which blasts out high pressure water containing metal microfibres, through its paces in a scenario set in a ninth-storey flat in Hebburn.
With smoke billowing from a back bedroom in derelict Westmorland Court, two firemen in full breathing apparatus were lifted around 20m into the air on a high-level platform.
After reaching their target point, it took them less than three minutes to use Cobra’s sharp metal tip to make a small incision in an outside wall – and fire in their special liquid mix.
Within seconds a real blaze would have been dampened enough for firefighters to enter the property from the inside.
Fire chiefs say Cobra plays a vital part in keeping firemen at a safe distance from a blaze until the dangers of any 999 situation can be fully identified.
The exercise formed part of a series of response tests carried out by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue over four hours yesterday at Westmorland Court, which is set for demolition.
Although the exercise had been planned for 18 months, the fire service says it had special significance in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in London in June.
Station Officer Adrian Jackson, who oversaw the operation, said: “The incident at Grenfell has certainly highlighted to us fresh awareness of such incidents.
“We have been using the Cobra technology for about a year but only on low-level domestic scenarios and never on a high-rise as we are here.
“It is quite unique to be able to practice in a real high-rise building, and this is helping us to develop new procedures.
“The height of the building means that our standard firefighting techniques are challenged in a way they are not in a normal domestic incident.”
Around 16 firemen, using three appliances and the high-level platform, took part.
Having cordoned off the area surrounding the 10-storey tower block, specialists set off smoke canisters in the flat to simulate the effects of a blaze.
Firemen immediately sprang into action, working to a brief that the occupants had raised the alarm and escaped the building.
The exercises were carried out in partnership with South Tyneside Council, which owns the building, and housing provider South Tyneside Homes.