London Fire Brigade

Richard Binder, Central Operations - Group Manager

While London Fire Brigade might be the busiest fire and rescue service in the UK, our firefighters have travelled the world offering their skills and expertise in humanitarian disasters. Group Manager Richard Binder looks back on almost 30 years’ service with the Brigade, which has seen him travel far and wide at the drop of a hat (or bleep of a pager).

"From the moment it is confirmed that UK-ISAR is required, we can be deployed and be out the country in six hours," said Richard.

"You never really know what you are going out to, however you know through the nature of the work that you could be gone for a number of weeks.

"It is this unknown that keeps things alive and interesting. You just don't know what to expect."

Richard joined the Brigade in September 1986 and first served at Stratford Fire Station before moving to various stations in north-east London as he advanced through the ranks.

"I always had an interest in urban search and rescue and around 1995 I was selected to be part of the now defunct United Kingdom Fire Service Search and Rescue team.

"This team provided an overseas deployment capability from the National Fire Service, which London was a part of.

"However, it was short lived, lasting for only about three months because of various external and internal issues. As a result, as quickly as we were in it, we out of it, which was a real shame."

Fire and Rescue Unit

The terror attacks in New York City on 11 September 2001 prompted a review of the capabilities of emergency services around the world and Richard was assigned to the Special Operations Group.

He spent six years in a role evaluating the Brigade's Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) set-up, implementing everything from training and vehicles to personal protective equipment and courses.

The USAR teams are deployed to assist in complex operations to conduct initial search and rescue of trapped casualties from hazardous environments, such as building collapses or train or plane crashes.

USAR trained staff ride in a Fire and Rescue Unit (FRU), as opposed to a standard fire engine, which are available at five technical rescue stations across London.

In addition to the FRU, USAR staff can request a number of USAR modules that contain a huge range of additional specialised equipment to support USAR operations.

Although Richard is now working in Central Operations he remains a voluntary member of London's 12-strong team that forms part of the United Kingdom International Search & Rescue Team (UKISAR)

UKISAR is the official search and rescue response of the UK Government and is made up of 13 fire and rescue services throughout the country.

The teams work a rolling four-month rota of being on-call and available to be called up to action and deployed whenever a request is received. 

Helping in Nepal

It was as part of UKISAR that Richard went to Nepal in April 2015 following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

The team were given six hours' notice and flew out from Stanstead Airport, along with 14.5 tonnes of equipment including specialised cameras and acoustic and seismic listening devices that detect people, even when they are buried under large quantities of rubble.

Richard said: “In total we were there for ten days to assist with search and rescue as well as reconnaissance work and assessing people's needs for food, shelter and medical aid.

"We were flown by helicopter to remote mountain villages to assess the damage and destruction. 

"It's a lot to take in when you see the scale of the disaster and is quite moving when you consider the villagers had not seen or heard from anyone for seven or eight days before our arrival.

"As we were the first people to arrive there was a lot of expectancy from the local residents.

"We had very little extra equipment to share, due to the weight restrictions on the helicopter, however what we did have in terms of our own personal kit including food, and water we left to the local villagers. 

"We also provided and set up a temporary clinic where we dealt with some of those that had been injured."

The earthquake killed more than 8,000 people and left over 20,000 injured. In the villages Richard reached by helicopter, all 280 buildings that were being used as homes had been completely destroyed.

The team's involvement ensured villagers were supplied with shelter, food and medical aid

"The spirit and attitude of the Nepalese people, despite the disaster that they were living in, will be something I will never ever forget," said Richard.

Everyday risks

Although his career has seen him help others halfway around the world, it is incidents closer to home that reinforce the everyday risks.

As a firefighter he was part of the crew that recovered two firefighters who had tragically died at the scene of a fire in Gillender Street in July 1991.

He was also a senior officer of the London USAR team deployed to a warehouse fire in Atherstone-on-Stour, which claimed the lives of four firefighters who were within the building. It was the London USAR team that recovered them from inside the collapsed warehouse.

Richard said: "By the nature of the job that we do in the fire service there will always be inherent risks, which I am extremely aware of from my own experiences.

"However, with these experiences and the training that we do on a regular basis, I believe we are in a very good place to deal with any significant incidents that occur in the future.

"I always remember my experiences at Gillender Street, when the situation was at its most critical, and I was momentarily trapped.

"The thought in my mind was 'who rescues the fire brigade?' The next thought was 'there is no one'.

"It can be quite sobering and difficult to comprehend and certainly makes you appreciate your training and the value it brings in testing times."


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