TWO Halton firefighters who were part of the rescue team which dragged victims from the rubble following an explosion in a Scottish plastics factory have been praised for their professionalism and dedication.
Leading Firefighter Martin Walsh, based at Widnes Fire Station, and Leading Firefighter Ian West, who left Runcorn Fire Station last week for a new post at Warrington, were called on for their expertise in dealing with the aftermath of major disasters as the grim task of locating casualties got under way.
The duo were part of crack team of six firefighters from across the county who are members of the 20-strong Cheshire Urban Search and Rescue Team which was set up to assist in emergency zones across the globe and to respond to incidents such as terrorism attacks in the UK.
During the operation, Mr Walsh and Mr West were required to dig and crawl through long tunnels deep under the rubble to retrieve the corpses of people who had been crushed to death or blown up in the explosion.
Mark Coleman, assistant divisional officer for Cheshire Fire Service, and leader of the search and rescue team, told the Weekly News: 'Ian West and Martin Walsh are two of the most experienced officers members of the team and they have both have experience dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes in India and Turkey.
'The explosion site in Scotland replicated to some extent an earthquake zone, although on a smaller scale.
'Of course in Britain we have the advantage of a command and control system, a professional fire service and access to items like lifting equipment.
'We were notified in the early hours of the Wednesday morning and travelled to Scotland and we were given a pre-brief before we went on site.
'We looked for potential voids in the rubble where people would have had the best chance of survival.
'There were two people still missing when we arrived and we used search dogs which pick up live scent to indicate potential areas where people could be trapped.
'We also used specialist listening devices which are sensitive enough to pick up scratching and tapping noises and can indicate movement under the rubble and thermal imaging cameras which can pick up signs of casualties near the surface.
'We found the eighth victim on the first night and the last casualty was in the basement. Unfortunately both had died in the initial blast.
'It was a dangerous and arduous environment and we had to stay focused all the time but we had 12 months of intensive training to build up our skills and our hard work paid off and we did an excellent job.
'All the members of the team are very professional and we are very proud of the work they did.'