Full-scale live fire exercise with over 50 firefighters takes place this weekend in the Dartford Tunnel

Published:  08 May, 2014

On Saturday 10 May seven fire engines and specialist vehicles from the west of the county along with colleagues from Essex Fire and Rescue Service will be called to the scene between 10pm and 2am to test the emergency services and other partner agencies response to a major incident in the tunnel, which crosses the River Thames in England.

The scenario unfolds after a van travelling in lane one of the west tunnel suffers a sudden tyre failure and swerves, colliding with a second vehicle. The impact causes both vehicles to crash into the nearside walkway, blocking both lanes of the tunnel and causing long tailbacks. The drama heightens when smoke is seen billowing from the van, activating the recently installed state-of-the art water mist fire suppression safety system, part of a £34 million safety upgrade.

The safety upgrade was awarded to tunnel safety specialists Fogtec Brandschutz GmbH, and is similar to fire systems installed in the Channel Tunnel following a major blaze there in September 2008. The upgrade was completed in 2012.

Commenting on the exercise, Greg Theophanides, Kent Fire and Rescue Services (KFRS) said: “Dartford Tunnel plays a vital role in keeping the county’s road network moving. However, fires in tunnels can be the most difficult to deal with and pose unique challenges. It can be harder for rescue teams to reach the scene, the conditions are confined and it gets incredibly hot and humid. This is why we must be able to put our emergency plans into operation effectively. The activation of the new fire suppression system will knock the fire back quickly, making it safer for our firefighters and tunnel users.

“Although safety standards in the tunnel are very high, it’s vital that our contingency plans are as robust as possible. This innovative training session will allow our firefighters to bring to life possible events that we could be called to deal with and make sure we are all equipped and prepared to deal with it safely and ensure the safety of motorists.”

Highways Agency Project Manager, Paul Harding, said: “Safety is a top priority for the Highways Agency and, although we hope an incident like this never happens, we want to make sure that our teams and the emergency services are prepared. The tunnel safety systems have been upgraded to ensure that journeys remain safe for the thousands of drivers that use the Dartford Crossing each day.”

The exercise also includes representatives from the Police, Ambulance Service, Essex Fire & Rescue Service, Highways Agency, local authorities, Environment Agency, St John Ambulance, British Red Cross and the Casualties Union and is taking place overnight to keep disruption to a minimum for travelling public.

Chris Brown, Connect Plus, (the Tunnel Operator on behalf of the Highways Agency), said: “Simulations like this are essential to ensure our readiness to deal swiftly and effectively with any incidents in the tunnels. The exercise also gives us the opportunity to ensure that the emergency procedures and equipment perform along with the ability of the organisations taking part to work together in an emergency situation.”

Both tunnels will be closed between 10pm and 4am with a fully signed diversion for northbound traffic via the A2, A102 through the Blackwall Tunnel and the A13. The northbound Blackwall tunnel has a height restriction of 4.0m (13’0”) and is classed as ADR Category E. Any vehicles above this height restriction or carrying dangerous goods will be required to use the clockwise M25.

  • Operation Florian

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