Three West Midlands firefighters - and Cara the dog – selected to join UK Search and Rescue squad
THESE three firefighters – and one brave fire dog – are ready to travel anywhere in the world at a moment's notice as they become the newest recruits for the UK's international search and rescue team.
The West Midlands foursome have been selected as the newest members of the UK International Search and Rescue (ISAR) squad – and are a vital part of a 250-strong team across the UK.
Firefighter Mick Attwood and search and rescue dog Cara, both from Lichfield but work out of the Technical Rescue Unit in Bickenhill Fire Station, have been chosen – along with watch commanders Paul Evans of Aldridge Fire Station and Lee Howell of the Command Development Centre in Smethwick.
The trio – and Cara – are all thrilled to be selected for the ISAR group. They successfully completed a challenging process which ended in a four-day outdoor assessment.
UK ISAR volunteers – drawn from 15 fire and rescue services - respond on behalf of the Government to overseas emergencies, usually involving search and rescue from collapsed structures.
Mick, age 47, has looked after five-year-old Belgian Malinois Cara since she was three. She lives in the Lichfield family home with him and his two teenage boys.
"For us it's a really big deal," said Mick. "This is the pinnacle really of what we could have hoped for. We are in this great position where we could be deployed anywhere in the world."
Mick and Cara have to be ready to leave in two hours, at all times. And once they receive the call, they aim to then be at their destination within 24 hours.
"Cara is an outstanding search dog," he added. "She is trained to search for life. We do a lot of training, in all conditions, to get her used to any situation and any environment."
Paul Evans, who is based in Aldridge, said he was "thrilled" to have been chosen for ISAR.
The 46-year-old lives in Willenhall with his wife and teenage son and daughter, along with German Pointer Ozzie.
He said: "My family and friends have been really excited. I've been getting a lot of phone calls and text messages.
"We do a lot of very intense training. It's taken up two years of my life. And I've got a dog of my own, Ozzie, to help keep my fitness up.
"This is all based on voluntary service though, and supported by West Midlands Fire Service and the Government. We go over to these places on request from the host country and when you get there you try and help save a life."
And Lee Howell, who is based in Smethwick, said it was an amazing honour and one he feels well trained for.
The 39-year-old keeps his fitness levels high with regular runs and cycle rides around the Black Country, often accompanied by his own Italian Mastiff Jax – but not, he admits, his French bulldog Coco.
He lives in Dudley with his fiancée and 11-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son – and also a snake named Fluffy.
Lee said: "There's always going to be a certain amount of mental strain with these things, so you do have to prepare for that. But you know you are going to get the support at home from West Midlands Fire Service.
"I do a lot of walking with a heavy rucksack to train and also cycling and running. It's something I've maintained as a firefighter for a number of years."
In the past the UK ISAR team has helped with natural disasters such as the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan – which they arrived at in just 16 hours.
They have also helped in the Haiti earthquake in 2010 – and can be called upon to any part of the world.