Response unit capable of dealing with terrorist ‘dirty bomb’ attack axed

SCRAPPED: One of Lancashire's two Incident Response Units is decommissioned

SCRAPPED: One of Lancashire's two Incident Response Units is decommissioned

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One of Lancashire’s two emergency vehicles equipped to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist “dirty bomb” attack has been axed to save money.

The Incident Response Unit, based at Morecambe Fire Station, is one of 22 being decommissioned across the UK because it has never been used in 12 years.

Public safety is our number one priority. Sufficient specialist units remain in place to provide the mass decontamination capability and there is no extra risk to the public through withdrawing the excess units.

Lancashire will still have one IRU, garaged over in Burnley.

But the decision to reduce the country’s 63-strong fleet by a third comes at a time when Britain is on heightened alert and has sparked condemnation from opposition politicians.

“It cannot possibly be the right time to cut by a third our ability to respond to serious terrorist incidents,” stormed Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham.

News of the IRU cutbacks only became public through a leaked Government document. Officially the 22 vehicles were taken out of service on December 31.

A spokesman for Lancashire Fire and Rescue said: “We got two of these in 2004 and, fortunately, we have never used either of them.”

A national review involving the Chief Fire Officers Association concluded that the country could manage with 41 IRUs, meaning 22 could be withdrawn to make savings.

Each 26-tonne wagon is kitted out with mass decontamination facilities to deal with a major incident involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials, such as in potential terrorist attacks.

The units were introduced in 2004 at a cost of £54m, when the Government feared reprisals from the Iraq war, including a dirty bomb attack - a device which combines dynamite with radioactive material.

Each IRU carries 48 gas tight suits to protect emergency workers, tent structures and banks of shower which can decontaminate up to 200 casualties an hour.

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said: “The equipment being removed from the units is because its operational life is at its end.”

A Government spokesman said: “Public safety is our number one priority. Sufficient specialist units remain in place to provide the mass decontamination capability and there is no extra risk to the public through withdrawing the excess units.”