For some years now, the Team has existed with three vehicles, but the huge demands placed on us in 2010 and 2011 forced us into commissioning another vehicle, so we could better deal with two incidents simultaneously and have the transport necessary. So another Mercedes Sprinter 4×4, “Delta” joined the fleet, and we now have a lead Land Rover and a personnel carrier / ambulance for each incident. Both Sprinters have been fitted with special floors with moveable anchor points, so we can fasten down equipment and stretchers securely. In addition, the first Sprinter has had new conspicuity markings added to make it more visible, and fit in with other emergency services. It doubles as our “Boat Bus” for water rescue, with all the necessary kit for immediate response.
The old TD5 Land Rovers have been replaced by two new Puma engine Land Rovers, converted to our specification by North Wales Police Commissioning Centre. They are fitted with full roll cages to protect the crew in the event of accident. Similar to the old Land Rovers, they have Clark radio masts, an internal cage partition which acts as a stretcher support when converted to ambulance mode, and the usual complement of blue lights and sirens. Regrettably they are only 5 seaters rather than the 6 of the old model.
The ever-increasing burden of legislation requires a regime for regular inspections and testing. Each vehicle has a fortnightly check by Vehicles Officers, and goes to a local garage every 13 weeks. Servicing is every year. As they are classed as Ambulances, they have to have an MOT every year, even if only a year old. This calls for a large amount of record-keeping, and a need for all Team members to report faults and defects they come across.
Keswick Team is proud of its standards of driving, both on and off road. It may well appear to onlookers to be loud at times, but in fact emergency responses are only to the most life-threatening of situations. The excellent training we have received from ex-police driving instructors enables us to get to our access points to the hill swiftly, safely and in recognition of the prevailing road and traffic conditions. We currently hold the right to certain exemptions from traffic law, which enable us, for example, to carefully overtake lines of stationary traffic on the wrong side of the road, and exceed the speed limit where it is safe to do so. These exemptions do not exempt us from prosecution if things go wrong, or if the vehicle is in an unsafe condition; they are simply there to ease our passage through busy traffic. Keswick has plenty of that in the summer months.
Section 19 of the 2006 Road Traffic Act, which is due to be implemented within the next year, may require those driving vehicles under Emergency Response conditions, with the exemptions, to be trained very differently from how we train now. Potentially it could cost a very large amount of money – up to £1000 per head – and require Team members to undertake a two week course in their own time. Whilst it is essential that standards of driving are high, and that necessary safety safeguards are in place, it will place a huge financial burden on teams. Effectively we are being asked to match the driving standards of other emergency services without being given the resources with which they address the issue. Given that the mileage the Team does – in total about 5000 miles a year – it seems unnecessarily prescriptive.
In the meantime, the current driver training programme continues, with a day of defensive driving, an Emergency Response driving module, and an off-road driving day, to ensure drivers are well equipped to respond to whatever turns up. Refresher training keeps these skills up to date.
Driving takes up the least amount of time on any rescue, but has the potential to be the most dangerous aspect of all the work we do. The Team takes all necessary precautions to ensure that the risks are minimised by good driver training and sound maintenance.
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