'Challenging': Shropshire fire chief describes rescue of warehouse worker trapped under tonnes of cheese
It was a rescue which took about nine hours and needed the help of about 100 individuals.
And without the use of search dogs and a drone the outcome could have been so different for warehouse worker Tomasz Wiszniewski, who managed to walk away from the scene injury-free.
Mr Wiszniewski spent nine hours buried in his forklift truck under about four metres of 20kg blocks of cheese at Edwards Transport, in Hinstock, near Market Drayton, in 2016.
It happened when racking inside the building fell, trapping Mr Wiszniewski, which led to a complicated and extensive search and rescue operation.
Neil Griffiths, group commander for operations for Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service, gave a presentation on the rescue at the Talent in Logistics Conference held at the Telford International Centre yesterday.
"I have worked for the service for about 18 years now. I would say this is one of the most unique incidents I have attended in this time, probably more so because it involved quite a lot of resources from outside our county," he said.
Mr Griffiths said that trying to locate Mr Wiszniewski and gaining access to the unstable building were among the many challenges the team faced.
"It was a large warehouse with solar panels, which presented a challenge for us. The main thing with them is they remain energised, so the building itself is energised and there is no real way of switching that power off," he said.
"So if we are trying to use cutting tools to gain access that presents an issue to us. Trying to ensure our crews are safe whilst trying to rescue this individual presented a real problem.
"When I arrived on scene the building was showing signs of collapse. The building was used for the storage of cheese blocks. They were in cardboard packaging in racking.
"Unfortunately the forklift truck appears to have clipped the racking. A domino effect then occurred.
"The building was very unstable. The building was creaking and groaning for the entire nine hours of the operation. It was causing us some real concerns.
"It was difficult to commit crews into the building but we wanted to access the building so we could decide how we could locate the individual.
"There was no CCTV in operation in this particular warehouse, so we had no indication of where the individual in the forklift truck was.
"The other thing we were trying to do is contact him on his mobile telephone – he wasn't carrying a telephone. At this point we didn't know if we were in a rescue phase or recovery phase."
With difficulty in locating Mr Wiszniewski, Mr Griffiths said they decided to use search dogs, including Belle, the lifesaving canine that sniffed out the worker buried under hundreds of tonnes of cheese.
The four-year-old urban search and rescue dog from Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service helped find Mr Wiszniewski.
Mr Griffiths said: "Plan B was carrying out a thorough and painstaking search, so we decided to employ a canine search.
"There were two dogs deployed. Unfortunately one of them sustained an injury. But it was one of the dogs who detected the individual which meant we could create a route and hone in on him and get him out.
"We had not used a drone before and it just so happened that one of our crew members is a professional crew pilot.
"We were there scratching our heads thinking how are we going to locate the individual so I said go get your drone. He managed to get some good aerial footage and some footage inside, which gave us a clearer picture of what we were dealing with.
"What we didn't know at the time is that we needed a special licence. I wouldn't say we got in trouble but we had some stern conversations with some individuals afterwards. But the drone was instrumental."
Mr Griffiths added: "It was a positive outcome and we did rescue the individual.
"There was some real concerns that this individual wasn't going to come out in a good way. But the gentleman was released without any injury whatsoever. It was the protective cage in the forklift truck that protected him.
"We used in excess of 100 people to rescue this particular individual. It demonstrated a good example of multi-agency working."