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Reporter plays mock casualty in Dartford firefighters' quarry rescue exercise
PERCHED on a ledge halfway down a 100ft cliff face is not the best place to be.
And when the stretcher I was strapped to threatened to throw me to the floor of the Eastern Quarry in Ebbsfleet Valley, I did wonder whether volunteering as a mock casualty was such a good idea.
But thanks to 25 firefighters from Dartford, Thames-side and Kent Fire and Rescue Service's specialist line rescue team, pretending to have fallen off a cliff to help them with a training exercise was mostly plain (ab)seiling.
Given the number of quarries in the Swanscombe and Greenhithe area and the dangers they present, the scenario I was involved in is sadly not an unlikely one.
For Dartford watch manager Dave Boakes, lowering to safety a lanky reporter with mild vertigo was a slight change of pace.
Asked whether my rescue was routine, he said: "Not really, no.
"It's routine in the sense of the equipment we use but it's unique in this environment so it's quite good for us to have a go.
"There were a lots of complications with the actual terrain coming down to you but that's one of those things you have got to resolve; there is no straight answer.
"In a controlled environment at the station there is, but here it's a unique thing."
He added: "The quarry's unique. We've got everything: water; roadways at the bottom; we've got the cliffs and water supplies we can use for pumping.
"It's very varied and interesting."
'Varied' and 'interesting' are two ways of describing what it feels like when the stretcher you're strapped to starts to tip over around 40ft from the ground.
A slippery chalk face riddled with brambles didn't make it easy for the line rescue team, even though they do this sort of exercise once a week.
Team member Dan Yates said: "It's a difficult setting up here as it's not clear and it's full of junk in the way.
"It's different from a drill tower so it's something we need to do."
Paul Copley has 12 years experience in line rescuing and helped me abseil to a ledge on the cliff; a luxury not afforded a real casualty.
Two other team members joined us to help assess the situation before a third brought down a stretcher on his back for me to be strapped to.
A few bumps and scrapes later I was successfully lowered to the ground.
Mr Copley told me: "You were the ideal casualty: you didn't scream at all."
Even his considerable skills are put in the shade by team leader Malcolm Cowie, 59, who has 42 years experience at the Deal-based team.
He said: "I still enjoy it very much. It's a great job; the best there is."
With five bright red fire engines and a specially equipped Landrover in tow, it was hard to disagree.
Would I want to do it for real? I think I'll pass.
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