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Subsea Training of First Sub Surface Search & Recovery Unit

Norfolk Fire diver at The Underwater CentreFollowing an increase in flooding in recent years, a Fire & Rescue Service has drafted in experts in subsea training to set up the UK’s first Sub Surface Search and Recovery Unit.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, which is part of Norfolk County Council, received funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to set up the dedicated unit for flood disaster response.

The unit will be based in the East of England, but will support police and fire services across the UK.

Leading subsea training centre, The Underwater Centre in FortWilliam, was selected as training providers and have welcomed the first divers from the unit, ahead of it going live later this month.

The two men, Alan Nicholls and Luke Hancock, completed the Air Supervisors Course at the Centre which was tailored to include specific diving experience and procedures relevant to the tasks that the unit will be performing, such as search and recovery and decompression procedures.

Both men are ex-military divers, who knew of The Underwater Centre as the preferred provider of the HSE Top Up Course – which military divers have to complete to work offshore – and were impressed with its strong reputation.

Alan Nicholls, from Norwich said: “I approached the Centre for training for the unit as we wanted information and experience in best practices running a dive site from an accredited civilian diving school, to get a non-military point of view, compliant with HSE and IMCA regulations.

“The unit will be the first of its kind and requires strong personnel to ensure a high quality service, especially when we are potentially dealing with serious, even life-threatening situations.

“We were confident that The Underwater Centre could assist in this, which was confirmed throughout the training with an incredible level of expertise available to us.”

Alan continued: “The funding was granted to Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, where the unit will be based, due to it being an area of high risk for flood and water rescue events.  The unit, however, will be listed on a national register for flood and water rescue events and the team has the capacity and mobilisation ability to deploy anywhere nationally.

“This unit will bring significant added value to the existing Fire and Rescue Service capability to deal with disasters.”

If the fire service or police are informed by the Met Office that flooding is likely to hit an area, the new Unit will be on standby to carry out pre-planned search and recovery missions. The unit is part of Norfolk’s specialist Urban Search and Rescue team, which is funded by central government and Norfolk County Council, as part of an elite group of firefighters who provide national cover for the most challenging emergency incidents.

The Underwater Centre’s General Manager, Steve Ham said: “This has been a very exciting project and one which The Underwater Centre was thrilled to be part of.

“We have a great reputation and client history in the energy and also military industries, and now we are beginning to see more and more cross-over as demand and opportunities arise for divers in other industries.

“While providing comprehensive, industry-approved courses, a unique feature which we also provide is bespoke training, with the aim of ensuring companies and their employees achieve their exact aims, in the time they are with us.  This proved to be extremely beneficial to the Fire and Rescue Service on this occasion.

“We hope this is the beginning of a great working relationship where we will deliver more training as their team expands.”

The Underwater Centre is a purpose built training facility which incorporates an extensive pier complex including four dive stations, classrooms, workshops and decompression chambers.

In addition to this, there are three fully equipped barges set up to support a variety of diving disciplines including closed bell, wet bell and surface supplied diving. With accommodation and additional classrooms based at the landward end of the pier, The Underwater Centre is set up to provide its students with the skills and experience to succeed in their new careers.

For more information on The Underwater Centre, contact 01397 703 786 or


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