PICTURES: Oil and milk spill emergency exercise

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The next time a milk tanker overturns in your neighbourhood, never fear.

Because thanks to a joint exercise with the Environment Agency, the fire service will now know how to handle it.

Crews from Littlehampton and Bognor Regis took part in the training day, which was held at the Mewsbrook Park Boating Lake last Tuesday.

The purpose of the training was for the two organisations to be familiar with the skills and equipment they have in the event of a major spillage.

The first exercise involved treating an oil spill that had spread into the water, and the second was responding to a leaking milk tanker.

Graeme Woods from Littlehampton Fire Station organised the event.

He said: “It’s all about partnership. For some of our new personnel it was useful because we could be working together in the future on a larger incident.”

One of the reasons why they collaborate is that unlike Environment Agency staff, West Sussex firefighters are trained to deal with emergencies in water up to waist height, and up to chest height when wearing a dry suit and a life jacket.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue also has a technical rescue unit which can respond to emergencies in rapid flowing water.

Mr Woods added that the training would come in useful when responding to floods: “If you have a lot of rain in a short amount of time, the drains can’t cope with it and they block up. That is when the problems happen.”

For the first exercise, firefighters had to treat an imagined oil spill on the lake.

They used a boom from the Environment Agency which allowed them to contain the spillage and skim the oil from the top of the water.

The second scenario was that a milk tanker had capsized, spilling its contents into the water.

To treat this type of spillage, the fire crews used the Environment Agency’s aerators which are dropped into the water and create jets of bubbles.

Graeme Woods from Littlehampton Fire Station said that this equipment is crucial in protecting native wildlife during a milk spillage.

“Milk spillages are a lot more dangerous for the environment. As soon as the bacteria gets into the lake they start reproducing and using all the oxygen so it can kill the plant and marine life.

“That’s why the Environment Agency has aerators, to keep the oxygen levels in the water high.”

Mr Woods said he has had first-hand experience of these spillages in his career.

He remembered dealing with an ruptured petrol tanker on the Tushmore Roundabout in Crawley, and a milk tanker that overturned by Patching Pond in Worthing a decade ago.

He said they had to divert all the milk into a holding dam near the A27 slip road and block nearby drains.

They did this using a Dammit mat, a clay sheet which forms a seal around the drain when pushed down with your feet.

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