Setting new standards for rescue

Published:  07 September, 2016

Competing in events such as the World Rescue Challenge improves standards for firefighting staff, says Padraig O’Longaigh, manager of Meath County extrication team.

Meath County Extrication Team, based in County Meath, 20km north of Dublin, has experienced a steep rise to rescue fame over the last couple of years. Not only did it host the Irish National RTC and Trauma Rescue Challenge, which took place on 21-22 May 2016 at Tayto Park, Ashbourne, Co Meath, but the highly skilled firefighters also won the event. Team manager Padraig O’Longaigh is the Senior Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Meath County Fire and Rescue Service as well as secretary of Rescue Organisation Ireland.

Meath County’s star is rising on the rescue firmament. Not only did it come joint second in the World Rescue Challenge in Lisbon last year, the team also won the prestigious 35,000 Euro Extrication Challenge, which was organised by rescue equipment manufacturer Holmatro at Interschutz. The team’s Incident Commander Paul Colleran took the top prize for IC at both events.

Meath County first held the Irish Rescue Challenge in 2012 at Ashbourne Fire Station, after the team won it in 2011. O’Longaigh says: ‘We ran a very good event again this year. Normally our challenges are only run in local fire stations and with local crews. However, we decided to change the format slightly, increase the size of the event and look beyond our borders. So I contacted the owners of Tayto Park, a theme park in our county, and they were very happy to host the challenge.’

Making the backdrop to the event a family entertainment theme park also meant a broader audience and an extra incentive for public and emergency practitioners alike to attend.

The Irish National RTC and Trauma Rescue Challenge is organised every year by Rescue Organisation Ireland, a member of the World Rescue Organisation (WRO). Meath County decided on a slightly different approach in 2016, and sent out an open invite for international teams to attend.

Hereford and Worcester from the UK, Bombeiros de Albufeira from Portugal, and Conscorcio de Valencia from Spain all accepted the invitation and competed in both the Road Traffic Collision and the Trauma Challenges, while Dudelange from Luxembourg entered  the Trauma Challenge. The event was also opened up to the Irish Civil Defence Force, which is separate from the fire service in the country, a motorsport rescue team and a mines rescue team.

‘We thought it was important to open the event up, so it was not exclusively limited to the fire service. So we opened it up to other emergency services while also broadening the scope by making it an international event to keep the levels up. For the same reason we also ran the first World Rescue Organisation-accredited assessor workshop at Ashbourne Fire Station on the day before the main event.’

This workshop was delivered by WRO assessor coordinator Bill Denny and WRO head assessor Michael Gahan, who provided current and upcoming WRO assessors with both theoretical and practical knowledge to improve the skills and attributes required to assess at rescue challenges. The secretary of the World Rescue Organisation, Cameron Black, was also present.

‘We had assessors attending from all over the world, including the US, South Africa, England, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and even Colombia. The training proved very useful and assured that the WRO assessors’ skills were all up to standard. A number of the attendees then went on to assess in the subsequent days, so it all tied in very nicely,’ comments O’Longaigh.

During the Irish Rescue Challenge, teams competed in two disciplines, road traffic collision and trauma scenarios, which is the same format as the World Rescue Challenge. The contestants get marked and scored on three different areas: incident command, technical ability, and medical capabilities.

‘Since we first entered the Irish Rescue Challenge in 2009, we have seen our skill level increase immeasurably,’ says O’Longaigh. ‘When you compare firefighters who are not part of an extrication team to those who are, you see a noticeable difference. Overall, the confidence, competence and casualty care is better with firefighters who compete as a team. I suppose they become slicker and sharper, which is not taking away anything from other firefighters. Competing has definitely enhanced our skills and our team members have become a lot more comfortable dealing with road traffic incidents.

‘The team also uses tools that they might not have normally thought about before, such as the reciprocating saw and impact wrench, and we are using more battery operated hydraulic equipment. Another benefit is that they are not just cutting every part of the car, but are looking at the most efficient way of extricating the patient with the optimum tool. For instance, a seat or a door can be quickly removed from a car by using an impact wrench,’ he explains.

With the right kind of training and leadership, fire brigades can implement a stronger response structure. Being a good fire department is not all down to money, says O’Longaigh. ‘There is certainly some amazing equipment out there, and having the money to buy this is great, but at the end of the day it comes down to how you approach an incident and how you use the tools. Equipment is only as good as the man holding it.

‘Fire services in different countries have different budgets available, yet every country will come across the same type of scenario and incident. It is the approach that counts. The communication between the team members and the incident commander must be perfect. The IC must direct his team to deploy the right safety procedures and consider the casualty’s welfare and their own.

'These are standards that could be improved upon and trained for time after time. It is why the World Rescue Challenge concept is used by emergency services across the world, and why they can all compete in an international World Rescue Challenge with standard marking systems.’

O’Longaigh is convinced that entering rescue challenges drives an improvement in standards, and this is something that Meath is keen to convey to the international fire and rescue community.

Last year, at the World Rescue Challenge in Lisbon, the Lisbon team won the competition on their own turf while Meath County came in joint second with Hampshire. ‘Even though it is a competition, when people are competing it drives them to improve their team, safety and casualty care approaches, which are primary elements during these types of scenarios. When you compete on an international level, you can pick up many new skills, tricks and techniques as well as new approaches to safety.

‘Everybody is watching everybody, discovering how to carry out the job more efficiently, and always picking up new skills. There is a lot of communication between the teams afterwards and no huge rivalry. We hold an open discussion with each other and, of course, there is a bit of socialising involved at events as well.’

O’Longaigh is proud of his team and of the fact that they have all volunteered to participate in these challenges. His only concern is to get the right funding, because Meath County is keen to participate in the 2016 World Rescue Challenge in Brazil, to be held in Curitiba, Parana, from 19-23 October, where he is hoping to again finish in the top five, and better if possible. The team is currently looking for a commercial sponsor to work with and help them with their funding for Brazil.

‘I would encourage as many people as possible to get involved in rescue challenges,' concludes O’Longaigh. 'It is a bit daunting at first, but once you get started you will see a massive improvement in how you perform as an emergency service practitioner. You will feel immensely satisfied because you are doing something worthwhile and hopefully it will help save lives.'

Commercial organisations who are interested in sponsoring Meath County Extrication Team should contact the team at

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