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Freddy’s free!

Freddy the Jack Russell

The owner of an 11-year-old dog that was trapped down a hole for 24 hours has praised the ‘extraordinary’ efforts of the West Midlands firefighters who rescued him.

Freddy the Jack Russell vanished on the morning of 22 November when he was out for a walk in Sutton Park with Richard Hill.

“I thought I’d seen him for the last time,” said the relieved 55-year-old. “What the firefighters did was just amazing.”

Mr Hill called 999 just after 8am on Tuesday 23 November after spending Monday and overnight trying to find his four-legged friend.

He had reached into the hole with his mobile phone and confirmed Freddy was down it by recording his distressed whimpers.

Mr Hill sent his precise location to Staffordshire and West Midlands Fire Control using the what3words app.

A fire engine and five firefighters from Sutton Coldfield were on the scene in just three minutes. They were joined near the park’s Town Gate by the RSPCA and members of our Technical Rescue Unit, based at Wednesbury, and started a two-hour dig to free Freddy.

Mr Hill, who works as a TV cameraman and lives in Suffolk, spends a few days a week living in Sutton where he helps to care for his mother.

“The firefighters were just unbelievable. Freddy is epileptic and needs to take medication, so I was very worried he’d gone for good.

“It was just incredible when he ran out of the hole – just like nothing had happened! He’s a bit orange at the moment, because of the colour of the soil. He’ll definitely be staying on the lead the next time we go out!”

Firefighters digging in Sutton Park to rescue Jack Russell
Freddy, a Jack Russell drinking water
Firefighters digging in Sutton Park to rescue Jack Russell
Firefighters digging in Sutton Park to rescue Jack Russell

Van-tastic road safety boost!

A large van and its road safety resources on display

Our new road safety van is helping us deliver important road safety advice to thousands of people across the West Midlands.  
The vehicle will be used by firefighters and our Road Casualty Reduction Team (RCRT) to deliver life-saving information at schools, colleges and community events. 

A large van and its road safety resources on display

It has been kitted out with a 50-inch TV screen and surround sound to help drive home the content of on-board videos.  
And it provides a ‘live’ link to our fire stations, so audiences can see fire crews as they undertake their training – much of it focused on providing the best possible 999 response to victims of road traffic collisions.  
RCRT Watch Commander Adrian Spencer said: “All too often our firefighters respond to collisions which could have been prevented. They see the damage, injury and loss they can cause.    
“Our new van will support the wide range of work we do in our communities to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads. 
“The vehicle’s wide range of educational resources includes our ever-popular virtual reality kit, which we use to help young adults in particular make the right choices on the road.”

Visit our road safety pages for some great tips on staying safe when you’re out and about.

Hoverboard explosion – safety warning

The charred remains of a hoverboard

Dramatic footage of a hoverboard battery exploding – just feet from the bedroom of a bed-bound West Midlands woman – has been released, with a stark warning to take care when charging electrical items.

Home security video shows the moments a lithium ion battery spewed its molten contents across the downstairs living room of a Smethwick house, setting the room alight.

Jacqueline Barrett (54), who has multiple sclerosis and heart problems, remains in hospital in an induced coma after being rescued from the property by West Midlands firefighters. She was in her downstairs bedroom, next to the lounge, when the fire took hold.

Now one of her sons, who is also her carer, is warning people to take extra care when charging any electrical devices.

Shane Johnson (34) said: “It’s awful. My mum’s really ill in hospital. The fire and smoke damage to the house is just unbelievable.

“Mum called me moments after it happened, to say there’d been some sort of explosion. The first thing I did was call the fire service, then got in the car to get to her as quickly as possible.

“I called my dad and some friends. Some got there before me, and dad had tried to kick the door in to get to mum, but the heat from the fire was just too much.

“If anyone needs a warning about leaving things unattended when they’re charging, or plugged in when they’re fully charged, this is it. It could happen to anyone.”

The charred remains of a hoverboard

Crews from West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) responded to the incident in Stony Lane just after 5pm on Saturday 13 November. Five fire engines and a Brigade Response Vehicle, crewed by a total of nearly 30 firefighters, tackled the fire.

The first crew arrived within five minutes of being mobilised and were met with a severe fire in the semi-detached property. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus quickly located and brought Jacqueline out of her downstairs bedroom, and she was taken to hospital by ambulance.

A WMFS fire investigator has confirmed that the fire started accidentally, as a hoverboard was being charged in the house.

Pete Wilson, WMFS’s Strategic Lead for Prevention, said: “This incident is horrific. Our thoughts are with Jacqueline, her family and friends at such a difficult time.

“We are extremely grateful to Shane for allowing us to share the home security video. It should send a clear warning to people to take utmost care when charging electrical items.

“The warning is particularly timely in the run up to Christmas, when we know people will be buying electrical items. Please – always buy goods from reputable retailers and check they meet British safety standards.”

Safety tips for charging electrical devices:

  • never leave items charging under pillows, on/in a bed or on soft furnishings
  • don’t overcharge items. Once they’re charged, unplug them
  • always use branded, genuine plugs and cables recommended for the specific device
  • if cables become broken, frayed or damaged, stop using and replace them
  • check that the output voltage and current ratings marked on the charger and your electrical device are the same
  • always buy goods from reputable retailers and check they meet British safety standards

Click here for more of our home safety tips.

Attacks on firefighters

Two trainee firefighters in breathing apparatus using a thermal image camera in a firefighting training exercise.

Any emergency service worker being attacked as they go about their work is clearly wrong and won’t be tolerated.

It is a serious issue, but we are fortunate as a service that incidents are fairly low in number when you consider the thousands of incidents we attend each year.

However, we and our Fire Authority will work closely with the police to bring culprits to justice. In serious cases you can go to jail.

Whilst most of the incidents we record are verbal, this can still be intimidating for our crews who are simply trying to do their job and safely resolve an emergency.

But we’ve also recorded instances of objects being thrown, threatening behaviour and even cases where weapons have been present.

We have a reporting system so our staff can let us know of instances, meaning we can identify hot spots and enabling local Station Commanders to work with their local contacts to try to resolve things.

We can also use our data to highlight ‘problem’ locations to our crews before they arrive and, if absolutely necessary, call for urgent assistance from the police.

We run awareness sessions for our trainee firefighters and an online course for all of our staff on managing difficult situations.

We will support our staff in every way we can if ever they’re unfortunate enough to be attacked and a case goes to court. And we have a wide range of other support we can provide, including counselling and the services of our Occupational Health team.

The National Fire Chiefs Council has also called for increased custodial sentences for those who commit attacks against firefighters, citing a 4% increase in attacks in England. Read their full statement here:

Sutton fire station also to be base for specialist rescue teams

Sutton Coldfield Fire Station

Sutton Coldfield’s fire station is to become the base for a team of specialist firefighters, enhancing West Midlands Fire Service’s (WMFS) technical rescue capability.

From May 2022, the Lichfield Road station will operate as WMFS’s third Technical Rescue Unit (TRU), alongside Wednesbury and Bickenhill.

A fire engine will remain based at the station, ready to respond 24/7 to urgent, life-threatening incidents within our five-minute response standard.

But the crews will also be specially trained and equipped to respond to a wide range of more specialist incidents, including flooding, building collapses and rope rescues.

The move is part of WMFS’s commitment to making the West Midlands safer, stronger and healthier. In late 2020, 11,000 people shared their views in a public consultation about our work. More than 90 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that we should continue to adopt a flexible approach to managing our resources.

Technical rescue around a winch system lifting concrete off a dummy

Phil Loach, Chief Fire Officer of West Midlands Fire Service, said: “We’re extremely proud that our 999 emergency response services are graded as ‘outstanding’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.

“However, we’re always looking to improve and to provide the best possible services to our communities across the West Midlands, making them safer, stronger and healthier.

“We take an evidence-based approach to our planning, applying our professional knowledge and understanding of risk. As the risks we face here in the West Midlands and further afield evolve, so must we.

“Our Community Risk Management Plan for the next three years has led to a number of forward-looking projects, including this exciting development for Sutton’s fire station.

“From climate-related flooding, through to the national terrorism threat and the staging of significant events such as the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, we need to be ready to respond assertively, effectively and safely when people need us.”

Chief Fire Officer Phil Loach portrait photo

TRU firefighters based at Sutton will still respond to incidents which pose a risk to life, including fires in homes and road traffic collisions. In addition, they will be trained and equipped for:

• rope rescues
• water rescues and boat response
• building collapses and shoring of dangerous structures
• incidents involving large vehicles, such as HGVs and trains
• large animal rescues
• technical/wide area searches
• lifting and moving, eg rescuing people from beneath heavy objects
• working in confined spaces
• responding with other agencies to terrorism incidents.

Members of Sutton TRU will also continue to provide WMFS’s ‘protection’ activities, which include regular inspections of high-risk premises. And fire safety officers will still operate from the station.

Councillor Greg Brackenridge, Chair of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority, said: “This is an exciting development for Sutton Coldfield fire station. We’re determined to keep West Midlands Fire Service’s ‘outstanding’ rating for its response work and to keep one step ahead of our communities’ needs.

“Community engagement and prevention activities will continue around Sutton, including the service’s Safe and Well visits to people’s homes and partnerships with schools.

“Sutton will continue to be a community fire station, hosting community events and our ever-popular open days.”

Find out more about Technical Rescue and their capabilities