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​​Search and Rescue

Following the events of September 11th, the UK government implemented a programme to ensure that the UK Fire Service had the capability to deal with such events should they occur here. The programme was called New Dimension. 

Search and Rescue Team in action.
​One of the areas identified through the programme was the need to provide a Search and Rescue capability. Search and Rescue teams carry out specialist rescue operations from incidents that involve collapsed buildings, confined spaces and large scale transport incidents.

Search and Rescue can be defined into two distinct areas:

  •  Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) 
  •  International Search and Rescue (ISAR)

Urban Search And Rescue OfficerWhat is Urban Search and Rescue?

The Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) capability is provided by a collaborative team which currently consists of on call personnel from all three Fire and Rescue Services in Wales. 

The Service has 21 on call personnel who provide 24/7 cover for local, regional and national responses. The 21 personnel are split into three teams and the capability is essentially based around the following principles:

  • Technical Search includes the use of specialist camera and listening equipment to locate casualties. We also use search and rescue dogs to initially locate casualties.

  • Breaking and Breaching requires the use of cutting and coring equipment to cut through concrete and metal wreckage to access casualties. Hot metal cutting equipment and chainsaws for structural timber and other materials are also used.

  • Loading and Moving includes the use of specialist moving equipment to remove rubble and debris that may have resulted due to breaking and breaching operations.

  • Shoring is the use of Paratech aluminum shoring equipment or timber. This is used to create a structure that can be used to stabilise buildings or trenches to prevent further collapse to create a safer environment to work in.


The USAR team is equipped with a suite of five modules (vehicles) which provide a vast array of equipment to cover every situation.

  • Module 1 - An enclosed unit based on a 20’ ISO container with rear and side opening doors. The module will provide USAR support in the early stages of an incident. Both sides can be opened via cantilever doors. The interior of the module will be fitted with racks and shelves in which the equipment will be stowed. The module also has a heating and ventilation capability.

  • Module 2 - Offers the same features as module 1. Module 2 will provide heavy rescue equipment required at a major transport incident.

  • Module 3 - provides heavy rescue support in the developing stages of an incident.

  • Module 4 - ​A​n open unit based on a 20’ ISO container with fixed sides to a height of 1.2m. The module will be used to carry equipment, including a MPV and can also act as a tipper unit for the movement of debris. The rear of the module is a hinged gate allowing full width access to the module and the gate also incorporates a hinged flap for use when the module is operating as a tipper unit.

  • Module 5 - A flat-bed unit based on a 20’ ISO container. The module will be used to carry timber and equipment and incorporates a tilt-cover and a load securing mechanism.

How Does UKISAR Work?​

The UK Government has recognised that there is a need to assist with major disasters outside the UK. One of the ways this is achieved is by the UK Fire and Rescue Services having a Search and Rescue capability. To support this, the UK International Search and Rescue Team (ISAR) was established.

Fire and Rescue at HaitiThere are 13 Fire and Rescue Services in the UK that are contracted to provide an International Search and Rescue Team within UK International Search and Rescue (UKISAR). Typically, each Service team consists of between 12 and 15 personnel which amounts to approximately 150 - 200 fire-fighters. The team operates a 2-group Rota which means approximately 100 fire-fighters are on immediate standby duty at any one time.

UKISAR is the Governments official search and rescue response. They will only respond and send teams if a request has been made by the Government. UKISAR cannot and will not respond under any other circumstance. The request has to be made by the government of the affected country or the United Nations representative in that country.

What do UKISAR do?

Haiti Disaster Site

The primary UKISAR role is to locate and rescue missing persons. When this task is complete, UKISAR may, on approval, become involved in humanitarian tasks. These tasks include erecting tents, building construction, unloading vehicles or aircraft, providing fresh water systems or transport infrastructure, administering medicines, carrying out first aid and other disaster relief tasks.

Our team has been involved in a number of recent deployments to disaster areas in Haiti and the Tsunami in Japan​.

Search and Rescue Dogs​

The Service have specially trained Search and Rescue dogs who assist at emergencies all over the world.

Search and Rescue Dogs

Watch Manager Arwel Hughes is responsible for a Border Collie called Fflam. Together they have been involved in numerous deployments including the Boscastle Flooding in Cornwall.

The USAR team has recently introduced a new pure breed Labrador called Celt, who is being trained and handled by Watch Manager Kevin Hughes. Celt will undergo an initial six month training period before his specialist search training starts. 

We will keep you updated about Celt’s progress via his very own “Dog Blog​” featuring all the latest news, training and work he does for the Service, which we hope many of you will enjoy following.

The dogs work in areas of particular hazard, which pose a significant danger for operational rescue crews to be, especially in the early stages of an incident. 

Due to their increased agility and four points of contact, they impose less of a load on already unstable structures. They are a potentially safer tool for search, preventing crews from entering risk areas in the preliminary stages of an incident. The handler directs the dogs from a safe vantage point and instructs them to search large areas swiftly for live casualties, even if they are unconscious.

 Our dogs also assist the Police with their search for missing persons.