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Volunteers learn new skills to face toxic test

7 January 2013

Red Cross volunteers are ready to give vital help at the site of chemical spills and radiation leaks thanks to a ground-breaking new partnership.

They have been trained to support the East of England Ambulance Service’ (EEAS) special operations response team (SORT), which deals with emergencies involving hazardous materials.

Volunteers have learned to transport and set up decontamination and field hospital equipment, and are ready to give practical and emotional help to victims. They could be called out to incidents involving nuclear, biological or chemical leaks that affect hundreds of people – or just a handful.

Volunteers from Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire were SORT-trained in October and November, and became available for call outs on 1 December.

 Volunteer Jill Bonney said: “The subject had seemed daunting, but I felt much more confident after the training. Everyone who did it agreed it was really worthwhile.”

Jill and her fellow trainees learned skills including how to put up decontamination tents and mini field hospitals, as well as how to set up and use heaters and lights at the site of a serious incident.

They were all Red Cross volunteers in the charity’s other services before their training, but can now also be called out whenever the SORT team is needed.

The ambulance service plans to give the training to 52 Red Cross volunteers, as well as 18 from St John Ambulance, by the end of 2013.

Melissa Magna, a Red Cross emergency response manager, said: "We're really pleased to form this partnership with the EEAS. We work very closely with all emergency services, so our volunteers are very experienced at dealing with emergency situations and helping people cope in a time of a crisis.”