In the first of a number of articles we look at some of the people who not only give up their time as staff with the Air Cadet Organisation but also have other vital roles in the community. Here we meet Sergeant Joe Ashton of Carnforth Squadron, Joe has been staff at 2246 for 4 years.
The bit of spare time he has is taken up as a volunteer with the Bay Search and Rescue Team. A volunteer charity specialising in quicksand rescue on Morecambe Bay, as well as missing person search, swift water, flood, snow, large animal and coastal rescue in Cumbria and Lancashire.
Here is his story:-
The following article is about my experiences during the floods of December 2015 as one of the rescue vehicle drivers and team leader’s.
The morning of 5th December started early. We were at our base preparing for a visit from the Army later that day, showing them how our team can help during major incidents. Little did we know what the day had in store.
At 0830 I was asked to take one of our Hagglund BV206 amphibious rescue vehicles to Penrith and to prepare for flooding. As the weather steadily worsened our first task of the day was to Appleby and an elderly lady who was seriously ill, with a very high temperature (41 degrees!). As she was undergoing Chemotherapy she urgently needed hospital treatment.
The rain had already flooded most of the town meaning no ambulances could get to her. Due to damaged bridges we had to travel the long way round, often detouring round lanes blocked by downed electricity cables. At one location we had to get out and tow a fallen tree out of our way, along with wading our vehicle through rivers over a metre deep that now covered the roads.
We safely collected the casualty and managed to get to a clear road and transfer her to a normal ambulance to go to hospital. We completed several more tasks that evening including rescuing an ambulance crew who had broken down on a road that was rapidly getting cut off by more rivers. We eventually finished our jobs at 0100 Sunday morning. It was time to grab a few hours sleep in the back of our Hagglund before the next day.
On the Sunday morning we carried out a few quick tasks around Kendal before receiving an ‘immediate response- life at risk’ task just South of Penrith. The river had burst its banks and was now running down the lane running parallel, cutting off several homes, trapping the residents.
Once we arrived on scene we were briefed by the Fire Officer before carrying out our own recce. The water was about 3 foot deep, and flowing down the road so fast that most people would think twice about going down in a white water raft!
I was able to drive our Hagglund up the road/river against the water, carefully avoiding all the trees and debris washing downstream, and collect 12 people from their houses, including a few from their upstairs windows onto our roof.
We then made a second trip to rescue a 91 year old gentleman and his elderly daughter. Their front door had given way and their downstairs had a river running through it. They hadn’t had any power or heating for over 24 hours and now had no food left, with hypothermia setting in. I was able to park our vehicle to deflect the river away from the house, and my co-driver, along with 3 firemen were able to stretcher them from their staircase to our vehicle and to dry land and warm food.
Once everyone was back on dry land I was able to make my way home for a rest, arriving 39 hours after leaving!
As the saying goes, “no rest for the wicked.” We were up early once again on the Monday, this time to Carlisle to help transport supplies around the city. As well as being able to wade through water up to a metre deep, our vehicles will also float and carry 2 tonnes of cargo, ideal for the flooded streets of the city. I spent the day driving supplies to residents that were remaining in their houses, and delivering medication to patients who had left theirs behind during the evacuations the night before. After spending another long day out helping, I was ready to return to my day job on Tuesday for a much needed rest. Unfortunately my day job had been flooded, wrecking my lorry and our factory so we spent a busy week cleaning up.
When storm Frank came over Christmas we were deployed once again. At lunchtime on Boxing Day my pager went off yet again. This time to the village of Croston, near Preston.
After rescuing residents, and evacuating others than hadn’t been flooded yet, we turned our attention to the local care home. The home had flooded, meaning all the ground floor residents had to be moved upstairs and share rooms on makeshift beds.
We loaded our vehicles up with food sourced by the Police as the kitchen had been destroyed.
As the water slowly started to recede, the care home became and island. Still cut off by deep water all around. We transported some engineers into the home to check the electric sockets and managed to lift a generator through the floodwater, to provide light and heat to the 39 elderly people still stuck in the home.
During the night we also rescued a taxi driver from his taxi after it got swamped, checked on a couple of vulnerable people to make sure they were safe, on behalf of the police and transported engineers to the sub stations so they could turn off the electricity before it blew and damaged power cables.
Once the water had gone the following morning, we returned to base as the skips came in to start the long clear up. We were back in Croston over the following days, working alongside the Army and an RAF Chinook, helping to rebuild the flood defences.
As a cadet for 5 years, and staff for a further 4 years, it is skills such as navigation training, first aid, leadership and problem solving that I learned as a cadet which prompted me to join Bay Search and Rescue, and I have since developed, with further training, these skills, and learned some new ones on the way.
SGT (ATC) 2246 Carnforth SQN
Operational Team Member, Bay Search and Rescue