Spalding firefighters had a unique chance to practice their stretcher rope rescue drill high up inside the iconic Chatterton Water Tower on Tuesday.
With the water tower shrouded in plastic sheeting, hiding a network of scaffolding and walkways, a team from Spalding Fire Station safely lowered a stretcher-borne, dummy casualty 20 metres from one of the walkways to a first-floor area.
The rescue exercise at the water tower was only made possible because the building is being steam-cleaned and repainted – and it came about through a partnership between Anglian Water, contractors Barhale and Spalding Fire Station.
Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue has carried out similar drills at Lincoln Cathedral, as well as real-life rescues there, and last year undertook a rescue drill from height at Spalding Power Station.
Sean Compton, one of the watch managers at Spalding Fire Station, said: “Obviously we have a facility to rescue from height but, actually, we are quite lucky in this town because there’s not really a lot of tall buildings.”
Fellow watch manager Paul Barkway said: “It’s not often we get a chance to do this from this height. It’s just for preparedness.”
Once inside the water tower, a team of firefighters prepared their ropes high up on a walkway before one of the crew, Petra Barneveld-Taylor, came over the edge of the scaffolding and inched towards the ground, guiding a stretcher as it was gently lowered by her team-mates.
Paul Barkway was on the first floor, holding one of the ropes, and told us: “If we did have an emergency up there, we would have a paramedic working alongside us, assessing them.”
Ian Lewis, Barhale’s water tower project engineer, said: “We are very pleased to be able to give the fire service an opportunity to practice in this way.
“Opportunities to work inside tall structures such as this don’t pop up very often.”
It has taken several weeks for the scaffolding to be put up around the outside of the water tower, with work starting on March 20.
Ian says the tower is virtually a 30m cube – the actual height is 30m while the width is 29m.
“An optical illusion makes it look much higher than the width,” he said.
Painting begins next week, in the same colours as before, and council officials have already okayed test paint areas.
Anglian Water says some 180 tonnes of scaffolding poles were used for the job and a further 70 tonnes of board to create the walkways.
The scaffolding has been wrapped in 3,500sq m of plastic to stop paint spray drifting when it’s applied.
There is a whopping 4,000 sq metres of steam cleaning and painting to complete.
Some 400 25-litre cans of paint will be used for the job, equal to 10,000-litres.
While that’s a massive volume of paint, it pales into insignificance compared to the 3.4million-plus litres (750,000 gallons) of water held in the tower.
Ian says the water is kept at height so it can be gravity fed along a network of pipes to people’s homes.
He explains: “The water is pumped up to that height to get the pressure to push it to the furthest extremities of the area. That’s the whole point of water towers.”
Chatterton Water Tower has served the Spalding area for the last 62 years.
The site has 24/7 security for the duration of the project, including a night watchman.
• More dramatic pictures inside your Spalding Guardian.