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Couple describe rescue exercise

PUBLISHED: 15:58 25 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:43 03 March 2010

SEMI-conscious, in agony from severe burns and head injuries, it can seem like a life-time waiting on the deck of a ship to be airlifted to safety.

Jo Arlow and Steve Garnham know exactly how such casualties feel - though they hope they never go through it for real.

By RICHARD CORNWELL Felixstowe editor

richard.cornwell@eveningstar.co.uk

SEMI-conscious, in agony from severe burns and head injuries, it can seem like a life-time waiting on the deck of a ship to be airlifted to safety.

Jo Arlow and Steve Garnham know exactly how such casualties feel – though they hope they never go through it for real.

The pair were the only Suffolk coastguards to take part in a massive training exercise off the county's coast to test the emergency plan should a passenger ferry be caught up in a major incident.

Ironically, Exercise Poseidon came just a fortnight after the Norsea had a real onboard fire – and just days before Suffolk scrapped firefighting at sea.

Jo and Steve were asked to play the roles of two of five seriously injured casualties in the exercise who had to be winched off the Poseidon 2, played by the DFDS vessel Dana Anglia.

"Waiting for that helicopter to come and take us off seemed like a life-time," said Jo, sector manager for the Felixstowe Coastguard.

"It was probably only 13 or 14 minutes, but it seemed like forever. It must be horrendous to really be in that situation.

"We had to play the role realistically – I had to pretend I had severe burns to my head and arms and difficulty breathing and it was life-threatening – to make it a real test for the emergency services."

Steve, station officer for Felixstowe Coastguard, said it was not a pleasant experience being hauled up into the RAF Wattisham search and rescue helicopter hovering above the ship.

"I was supposed to have a serious head injury and be semi-conscious so I just played dead really. But it was not easy looking down at this tiny deck below as we went up on this thin wire to the helicopter!" he said.

The incident, which was testing Essex County Council's emergency plan, took place about 10 miles off Orford.

The exercise was shrouded in secrecy, with emergency services and even passengers on the ship not knowing it was a mock-up. Only Colchester General Hospital knew it was an exercise, but their staff joined in as if it was real.

"The idea was there had been an explosion on board the ship and this had caused a fire. It was a wake-up call for the emergency services because it is something which could happen any time," said Jo.

"It had to be played as if it was real to make it a worthwhile test of the plans which are in place."

Jo and Steve were taken to hospital and treated by triage nurses while, the vessel was brought into Harwich. Its passengers were evacuated as if it was an emergency and replaced with 200 members of the volunteer group Casualty Union to act as casualties.

The exercise also involved police and fire crews, council officials, Harwich Lifeboat, Harwich Haven Authority and Thames Coastguard.

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