Update from the Didcot incident

Following the major incident at the former Didcot power station in Oxfordshire, emergency services are continuing work at the site of the building collapse.

Police, fire, search and rescue and ambulance crews were called to the site of the former coal-fired Didcot A shortly after 4pm on Tuesday. To date, one person has died and three people have been reported missing.

The major incident at the now defunct power station saw a 300 metre, two storey section of a building collapse. The site closed in 2013 and was due to be demolished in the coming months.

The Chief Fire Officers Association is also working with colleagues to offer invaluable assistance. This includes colleagues from Merseyside and Cheshire, who worked on the Bosley Mill incident last summer, which saw an explosion claim lives which lead to an extensive search and rescue operation.

Dave Etheridge, CFOA’s Vice President and Chief Fire Officer for Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said:

“We have spoken with the police to the families who are obviously distraught and we have explained that we have not picked up any signs of life from our listening devices. However we are doing everything we can to locate their loved ones, regardless of whether they are still alive or not.

“The extent of this incident, the nature of the collapse and the location where the missing people were working means that it is unlikely the three missing people are still alive. We have tried the construction site radios and had no response and we see this as significant.

“The rescue teams are working through the debris, with their safety being my first consideration. However everything we are doing remains consistent with a rescue operation. The rescue teams are working under very difficult circumstances, with a structure that is unsafe and with unstable piles of materials from the collapsed building.

“We are currently using scent detection dogs, listening devices, drones and we are looking at the possibility of using remote controlled probes to access dangerous parts of the site. This enables us to cover areas that are too risky for rescue teams to go themselves.

“We have called on our colleagues in Cheshire Fire & Rescue, Merseyside Fire & Rescue and the demolition company which supported Cheshire Fire & Rescue that supported the search following the fire at Bosley Mill fire last year to share any learning from that incident. I am very grateful for all their professional help and advice we have received from other places.

“Progress has been slow, but we are making progress working through the debris. We anticipate that this exercise is going to be prolonged and difficult. People need to be prepared for this operation taking several days, possibly several weeks.

“I have given a personal undertaking to the families that we will do everything we can to recover their loved ones, and their loved ones, and that is what we are trying to do. My heart goes out to them as they wait for news.”

Fire engines from Oxfordshire attended the scene, along with specialist Rescue and Command Support Units, Urban Search and Rescue units from Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and West Midlands along with live scent detection dogs. Six ambulances and two air ambulances also assisted at the scene.

USAR trained Firefighters are working in conjunction with the live scent detection dog teams to search the collapse utilising cameras and seismic acoustic equipment. Heavy plant will be utilised to delayer the collapse to expose voids within which persons might be able to survive.

It is anticipated the search will be a considerable undertaking due to the instability of the site and is likely to last for a number of days. Drones with thermal imaging cameras have also been used.

The Health and Safety Executive has been informed and will conduct an investigation, which will be supported by Thames Valley Police. It has been confirmed it is not being treated as a terrorist attack.

Assistant Chief Constable Scott Chilton from Thames Valley Police said: “Yesterday at just after 4pm there was a partial collapse of the disused  Didcot A Power Station resulting in the tragic death of a member of the demolition team and injuries to a further five people. Overnight, Fire and Rescue have been searching the scene for three missing people.

“The sincere thoughts of all the emergency services, including Fire and Rescue, Police and South Central Ambulance Service are with the families of all those involved.  This is a tragic event and we are doing all we can to support the families of those affected and establish the facts that led up to this incident.

“We are now working closely with the HSE inspectors to understand the cause of the incident.  The priority at this time is that the recovery of the bodies is undertaken safely and that any evidence that will assist in understanding the cause of the incident is recorded.”

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