ONE YEAR ON: Heroic rescue became iconic image of the Boxing Day floods

'Like Armageddon.'

Friday, 23rd December 2016, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 3:01 pm

Those are the words of Rastrick firefighter Gavin Shaw, who along with fellow crew members Lawrence Heyman, Andy Lockwood and Andy Marshall carried out a heroic water rescue in Mytholmroyd at the height of the devastating Boxing Day floods.

The images of a Land Rover, stranded and submerged in the middle of the flood-ravaged village, became some of the most iconic of the disaster and were beamed around the globe as the news broke.

The crew at Rastrick Fire Station are highly trained in swift water rescue and their day unfolded at just before 9am, when they were originally sent to help a woman in distress in Hebden Bridge.

When the firefighters arrived in Mytholmroyd, it quickly became clear that they wouldn’t be able to get to the job as flood water rose throughout the valley, cutting communities off.

When the call to help with the Land Rover came through, the crew was working to rescue workers from a petrol station on Burnley Road.

“We got the call and the original description of the vehicle was a Land Rover with an elderly man and a baby inside,” Gavin said. “That was the brief we had and when we got there, we were met by 200 to 300 people who had gathered with their phones out, some screaming, some shouting. Our colleagues from the ambulance service assisted us and we made our way across. We got on top of the Land Rover, made entry into the vehicle and evacuated him.”

Reports of a baby trapped inside the vehicle were fortunately inaccurate, but it was a real baptism of fire for Gavin and his colleague Andy who had only been qualified in water rescue for six months.

He said: “That was the first time we had done anything like that. The gentleman was on a sticky wicket, he was very, very close to having a different day.

“He lost his Land Rover instead of his life. He was very lucky that we were only a quarter of a mile up the street and not committed to something else at that time.

“It wasn’t just the fire service, the HART team played a massive part that day with us, mountain rescue, there was even a lady in an old Citroen van who catered for us the entire day. She wouldn’t accept a penny.

“There was people being assisted from properties, then there was people being airlifted from properties. The entire day was almost like Armageddon.

“The people of Mytholmroyd’s attitude was nothing but outstanding. They were just solid. As the day calmed down, that’s when the emotions hit us as to how devastating the day had been.

“There has been a lot of coverage of what we did that day, but it all boils into insignificance. It really doesn’t matter what we did - it was how they coped, how they put their lives back together and ultimately that is what we are here to do.

“When we get that fire call, we are there to go and assist. That’s the ethos of what we go by.”

Since last year West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has reviewed its training course for specialist staff. Staff at Todmorden Fire Station have been trained as swift water rescue technicians and will soon be provided with water and flood response equipment.

The brigade is also increasing specialist water rescue equipment and is buying more water rescue sleds and flood rescue rafts, as well as replacing the existing powered boats and motors. Each fire engine will receive an additional flood suit and communications equipment is being replaced at all swift water and flood response stations to improve communication between teams and operational commanders.