Why abseiling is a good exercise for dogs in Birkenshaw

Firefighter Nigel Gill with Eddie the dog

Firefighter Nigel Gill with Eddie the dog

First published in Bradford

Search and rescue dogs from across the country abseiled into a Birkenshaw disaster zone to sniff out casualties.

But the rescue mission was just part of a training exercise at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s headquarters, which saw eight dogs and their handlers put through their paces in a series of dramatic scenarios.

In Sunday’s exercise, the specially-trained dogs were put in harnesses and lowered into a mock basement with their trainers.

It was to simulate situations where they would be called to search for victims of incidents, including gas explosions and building collapses.

Mark Hitchcock, station commander at Cleckheaton fire station and urban search and rescue team manager, said: “The dogs can search areas we can’t get to. They can find people buried under rubble quickly when we’d be digging for days.

“When you see them working it’s amazing. It’s absolutely brilliant. We wouldn’t be able to do our job without them.” In a series of training exercises across West Yorkshire, the dogs searched for missing and vulnerable people at a disused mill complex in Huddersfield and sniffed their way to casualties hidden at a demolition site.

“These are set up to replicate real scenarios,” said Mr Hitchcock.

“It’s quite dynamic. Yesterday, we had the dogs on ropes being lowered down a building by their handlers to simulate a situation where we have to send them into different areas.

“They are trained to sniff out live casualties in that sort of environment.

“Earlier this year, one of our dogs was called to help at a gas explosion in Shaw, Oldham.”

The search and rescue dogs, which are based at different fire services across the country, are of a range of breeds – including spaniels, labradors and golden retrievers.

They begin their training when they’re around six months old, with many continuing to train until they are two or two and a half years old.

Mr Hitchcock said there are 23 search and rescue dogs based across the country, with two based with firefighters at Cleckheaton.

“Everyone’s really enjoyed the training and have been extremely enthusiastic and very keen. It’s been great.”

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