A false explosion for a real intervention

Together with their French and Swiss counterparts, the CERN Fire Brigade carried out a spectacular exercise in the LHCb cavern. It was designed to test the coordination of the fire and rescue services of the Organization's two Host States.

Inside a temporary medical station set up above ground, the emergency teams deliver medical care to the injured before they are taken to hospital.

An accident victim in the underground cavern about to be evacuated.

'I was taking a group of visitors on a tour of the LHCb cavern when there was a huge explosion and I suffered serious burns to the thorax. The rescue services arrived on the scene and I was taken to the medical station'. Fortunately, this is not an account of real events but a scenario given to one of 20 volunteer 'victims' who took part in a large-scale safety exercise in the LHCb cavern. On 26 September, the CERN Fire Brigade organised a spectacular exercise in collaboration with the CERN Medical Service, the Fire and Rescue Service (SDIS) of the Department of the Ain, the Geneva airport safety service, the Geneva cantonal ambulance service, the Meyrin Samaritans and the White Cross service of Divonne-les-Bains. In total, no fewer than 70 rescue workers and volunteers took part in this full-scale exercise, designed to bring an accident involving a large number of casualties under control, in cooperation with the CERN Medical Service and various rescue teams from the two Host States. 'In the framework of our preparations for the LHC, we are organising a series of exercises of this kind', explains Ernst-Peter Doebbeling, Head of the CERN Fire Brigade. 'We have already carried out simulations at ATLAS and ALICE in 2005, then at CMS this year, but this one at LHCb is the first to be performed on such a large scale.'

At 7.06 p.m., the simulated explosion of an acetylene bottle resulted in one 'death' (a dummy) and 19 casualties, including 10 serious injuries. Smoke was generated in the cavern. The victims wore torn clothing and were made up with realistic-looking injuries. All of the volunteers had been given a card describing the role they had to play (type of injury and behaviour). 'The rescue workers need to be placed in conditions as close as possible to reality so that their intervention is also as realistic as possible', explains Gérard Antoinet, one of the firemen responsible for organising the exercise.

A team of two firemen quickly descended into the cavern to assess the situation and make the area safe. The medical services could then proceed to set up a treatment area underground. At the same time, a command post and medical station were set up on the surface. The most seriously injured were brought up to the surface first within 40 minutes, and within 90 minutes the last victim had been evacuated. 'We succeeded in rescuing everyone in a time compatible with the recommendations', says Gilles Colin, another of the firemen responsible for the exercise.

The exercise involving both the French and Swiss rescue services made it possible to evaluate the coordination between the two. 'We wanted to test communication between the various teams', explains Ernst-Peter Doebbeling. As the radio communication systems used by the two countries are different, the command post had to be fitted with triple controls. The signals used to give the rescue workers their instructions also differ from one country to the other. Finally, the hazards and topography of the various CERN sites are so specific that external rescue workers cannot be called in on their own without guidance from the CERN firemen.

The analysis of the results has yet to be completed but the exercise was certainly a success overall. 'It showed that the support and collaboration between the various services works well', says Ernst-Peter Doebbeling. However, certain details need to be refined, especially as far as communication and the procedures for calling in outside reinforcements are concerned. The exercise also highlighted that the CERN firemen require more training in managing a command post that includes French and Swiss rescue workers.

The role-play exercise was rounded off with a (very safe!) barbecue. The firemen are currently preparing two further exercises for 2007, including a major intervention in the LHC tunnel.