History of Bay Search and Rescue

Since 1999 Bay Search and Rescue a volunteer team and charity based in Flookburgh, have been working away very quietly, but very hard, solving some of the problems faced by Rescuers when trying to safely navigate the unpredictable sands of Morecambe Bay. And then once navigated how to best extract those unfortunate men, women, children, animals and vehicles trapped by the notorious sands, before the next tide!

These logistic and technical rescue abilities are unique to the team, who over the last few years have made a great effort to share them with the rest of the rescue world, and have been published in ‘Technical Rescue’, an Internationally respected and renowned rescue services magazine, The Emergency Services Times, and presented to various Fire Services, USAR, Resilience Groups, SAR teams, Police Forces and in 2011 at the International Search and Rescue conference and the Military Search and Rescue Conference at RAF Valley.

The range of dedicated rescue vehicles the team has available includes two Hagglund ATERV (All Terrain Emergency Rescue Vehicle) personnel carrier/ambulances and a Hagglund ATERV cargo carrier with crane. These tracked vehicles originally designed for military use in the Arctic are capable of travelling safely over almost any terrain and have full amphibious capabilities. The team are also in the final stages of building what they believe is the UK’s first Search and Rescue airboat. Similar to those now used by the US Coastguard to great effect in the evacuation of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, these craft can travel safely in any depth of water (or even no water at all!), but with no moving parts underwater are ideally suited for flood relief and the shallow channels of the Bay.

Joint training exercises undertaken with Cumbria Fire & Rescue proved to be of such a revelation to the local Fire crews that the question was asked if Bay Search and Rescue could assist them with other quicksand rescue requirements and also many other types of incidents further inland. Suggestions proposed included: Moorland and forest fires; to safely transport fire crews and heavy equipment to the scene. Animal rescue: a recent success extracting a horse from quicksand at Silverdale proved this point. Flood rescue; transporting crews, welfare into flood areas and recovering people back out safely (and warm and dry!). Recovery of crashed vehicles, aeroplanes etc from difficult to access areas. And of course any operations involving snow or blocked roads and gaining access to stranded vehicles and cut off homes.

After proving the teams capabilities to Cumbria Fire & Rescue Senior Officers and a subsequent visit from the Cumbria Chief Fire Officer Dominic Harrison to the station at Flookburgh, a Memorandum or Understanding was drawn up and was officially signed on Thursday 22nd October 2009 in the presence of MP Tim Farron, Councillors Iain Stewart and Pru Jupe. This resulted in Bay Search and Rescue becoming an on-call Technical Rescue and Support unit for the whole of Cumbria, who can be called on by local Crews who have the need of such specialist vehicles, equipment and skills.

Station officer Gary Parsons said
“After many years of providing our life saving service on the coast in just in our local area, we have realized that we can offer so much further inland. We will never neglect our primary duty to the safety of those unwitting few, who are unlucky enough to fall foul of the sands of the Bay. But we are not alone in our quest to make our part of the country as safe as possible, and no one team or agency alone ever has all the right solutions and answers”.

“Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service are the professionals we all rely on for so many different things, and fulfil many different roles in the search and rescue environment. From fires and floods to people trapped in cars, to derailed trains and quicksand rescue to mention but a few”

“The signing of this Memorandum of understanding between our two organisations, is a common sense step in the right direction for the future, making good use of our unique vehicles and skills available to this county, and to the wellbeing of those who live and visit here. This is a very proud moment for me and the team, and for us goes someway towards recognition for all that we have achieved in the past”

Subsequent training especially in the area of Moorland Fires, and in the aftermath of the Lancashire Moor fires of 2011, resulted in a MOU also being signed with Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service. From the base at Flookburgh even with two new transporter trucks purchased to deploy the Hagglunds inland, response times were still too long. So in a new world of interoperability BSAR and LFRS agreed to a joint working agreement where BSAR now operates a Hagglund from a spare bay at Bolton Le Sands Fire Station, sharing the station with the established and very experienced retained crew. This close working allows great opportunity for joint training, working and assisting with Moorland Fire support and more importantly shaved over an hour and a half off response times inland

Group Manager Tony Crook of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service adds
“BSAR is an outstanding resource staffed by a dedicated team of volunteers. This development is the culmination of a close look at incidents involving BSAR, Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service and ourselves with a view to enhancing a service that has already proved highly effective. As key partners in Lancashire’s multi-agency response to the threat of wildfires, a logical development was to establish a more strategically appropriate location for a BSAR team to combat that threat. Our fire station at Bolton-le-Sands is ideally placed. We are delighted to make the BSAR team welcome and look forward to our continued success as partners in the project.”

Why was the team formed?

Bay Search & Rescue (formerly Bay Hovercraft Rescue) was formed after It took a near tragedy to focus the minds of two experienced coastguards.
Gary Parsons and Adrian Swenson had been involved in a horrific incident where a man, trapped for ten hours overnight, came within minutes of drowning as his entire body was held upright by the sands’ deadly grip and the incoming tide was creeping closer to his mouth. Water lances were used by the 32 members of assembled emergency services to loosen the hold and, with only minutes left they got him out. Teams of coastguards, paramedics and firemen had to carry everything by hand, including high pressure water pumps over the sands to get to the casualty. A heavy wind was blowing and the tide was roaring in.

By the time the rescuers reached the trapped man, they were worn out. He was badly hypothermic and his body had more or less shut down. Everyone thought they were going to see a man drown before their eyes, powerless to do any more for him. Like all rescues on the Bay, time was of the essence. Nothing can slow, stop or control the the tide sands are a law unto themselves – whole tractors just disappear.

Gary, who works at Alder Hey Hospital, was haunted by the experience and thought there had to be better way that was faster and less risk for those involved. A hovercraft race at Carnforth prompted him to buy an old ex-racer which could do 60mph over the sands and the idea became a reality. No one else was using hovercraft for rescue and recovery, there was a lot of research to be done, and major obstacles to overcome.

Ada Hillard had lived on the Bay’s edge for many years and decades earlier a member of her family had a scare with the treacherous sands and fast-moving water. She become a major benefactor in the hovercraft which was named after her. A journey taking 3 hours previously on foot now took 12 minutes – this was revolutionary.

Further developments

Since then more developments have been made as the team became more experienced. The hovercraft although better than boats for operating on the Bay could still not carry enough equipment or personnel and had limited capacity for injured casualties. Once more a unique technological solution was required. This was found in the Hagglund, an ex-military all terrain, amphibious tracked personnel carrier originally designed for use in snow. We operate two of these; The personnel carrier/ambulance has seating for over a 18 or two stretcher cases and attendants. The cargo/crane can carry and lift huge payloads as well as 6 crew. More importantly both can travel quickly over just about any terrain imaginable; sand, snow, mud or even quicksand! Bay Hovercraft Rescue became Bay Search and Rescue.

The Team

Although totally independent, the team works with all the emergency services and the 20 strong operational team is always available on call weekends and evenings, and depending on the obvious restrictions of some team members ‘day jobs’ we can deploy a smaller team 24 hours a day, 7 days per week to respond to 999 calls. The Bay Search and Rescue Team skills, assets and facilities complements the services of the ’RIBs (rigid inflatable boats), jet skis, and 4×4’s provided by the Coastguard, RNLI, MRT, Fire and Rescue and other teams on and around the Bay and inland areas.

Call Outs

Since its inception, the team has been involved in an average of 20-30 operational call outs per year, including providing assistance to H.M. Coastguard during and subsequent to, the Morecambe Bay ‘cockling tragedy’ in 2004 and working for Cumbria Fire and Rescue during the floods in Cockermouth in 2009. As well as search and rescue/casualty evacuations on the Bay, the team also assists the Fire and Rescue, Ambulance Service, Police and First Responders in any inland work where our team and vehicles can be of use.

Our Base

We were originally based in an old wartime fire station at the Abbot Hall Hotel, Kents Bank. We are now based in a Rescue Station purpose built by the team members themselves at Moor Lane, Flookburgh in Cumbria on land kindly provided by Lord Cavendish of Holker Hall. We also operate a Landrover 110 ambulance from Milnthorpe to allow cover and command and control on the east side of the Bay and a Minibus . In 2012 moved a Hagglund and Transporter truck to Bolton Le Sands Fire station which we share with the LFRS crew and appliance.