Emergency services / Coastguard response to December weather ‘chaos’ recognised by police

Senior coastguard coastal operations officer (SCOO) Colin Willis, police chief inspector Stuart Clemenson, coastguard area commander Dave Sweeney and SCOO Dan O'Connor at an informal ceremony to hand over the certificate of recognition. Photo: Police Scotland

THE VITAL role coastguard teams played in December’s major weather incident in Shetland has been recognised – with the isles’ area commander saying multi-agency working has never been stronger.

The search and rescue emergency service responded to a request from Police Scotland to help in the frozen conditions of mid-December, after heavy snowfall left local communities cut off and thousands without power.

Last week police chief inspector Stuart Clemenson presented Dave Sweeney, coastal operations area commander for Shetland, with a certificate of recognition.

“It was exceptional,” Sweeney said. “Every coastguard rescue team in Shetland was involved at some point during the major incident, they all played their part.

“I can’t praise our coastguard rescue officers enough, they were spectacular and I am so pleased to see the police have also recognised this – our working relationship with our emergency service partners has never been stronger.”

Coastguard rescue teams from Sumburgh, Lerwick, Whalsay, Walls, Hillswick, Baltasound and Mid Yell were sent to help authorities with a variety of tasks between 13 and 18 December.

Photo: Shetland News

“The snow came down that quickly that you couldn’t avoid it,” Sweeney said.

“It was chaos on the roads, so many people were immediately stuck and needing help and our 4×4 Coastguard vehicles were critical to incident response.

“The emergency services had to work together to ensure our local communities stayed safe and it meant my teams had a very different month to normal.

“We were deploying in support of our partners to complete welfare checks or run fuel and medical supplies as well as towing cars out of the snow, it was an urgent situation and we had to really pull together to keep people safe.

“It’s lovely to receive the recognition and to be able to show my teams how much they matter to the local community.”

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Teams were able to use their four-wheel drives to reach stranded motorists, taking them to a place of safety if necessary, as well as reach the more remote communities in Shetland to check on residents.

Many communities also experienced a lengthy power cut lasting days, leaving some residents extremely vulnerable in freezing conditions.

Among the tasks for coastguard rescue teams included working alongside council gritting crews to clear a blockage of approximately 40 vehicles at Tresta, while they also assisted a significant traffic backlog in the Kames in which vehicles became stuck in the heavy snow.

They also conducted numerous welfare checks on behalf of the police or health service, and for instance helped to bring supplies to health centres.

Crews were even needed to help HM Coastguard’s own staff safely travel to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Shetland to be on hand to respond to 999 calls.

The coastguard helicopter from Sumburgh also joined to help with a missing person search, as well as being pulled in to assist with medical transfers.

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