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Developed and maintained by the NFCC

Control measure

Specialist resource: Helicopter

Control measure knowledge

Helicopters can be mobilised to assist in search and rescue activities, providing support, accessing stranded individuals, transferring casualties and offering additional surveillance capabilities. When considering their use incident commanders should consider the variation of capabilities and limitations of helicopter assets.

Search and rescue helicopter capabilities:

  • Winch capable
  • Operate in a wide range of weather conditions
  • Additional surveillance capabilities including night vision

Police air support capabilities:

  • Surveillance capabilities
  • No winch capability

Emergency medical helicopter services capabilities

  • Equipped for treatment and transfer of casualties
  • No surveillance capabilities
  • Require landing site for loading of casualties
  • No winch capability

Mobilising and support

Prior to requesting air support assets, the weather, access and any potential effect on the incident ground should be considered. Helicopters may create large amounts of noise and cause considerable rotor wash, blowing water, dust and other materials. Rotor wash may also cause boats to move or flip.

Any decision regarding access or landing arrangements will be made by the aircraft’s captain.

The Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) will respond to all requests from the emergency services for helicopter assistance where lives are at risk. Assets are mobilised from the ARCC, but available from a number of sites around the UK. Additional support of a Search and Rescue Liaison Officer (SARLO). The ARCC manage the deployment and support of search and rescue helicopter assets, including identification of refuelling sites and arranging reliefs.

When requesting resources from the ARCC to support fire and rescue service activities, ensure the following information is provided:

  • Location of incident (grid reference)
  • Description of incident
  • Nature of tasking; for example, rescue, reconnaissance, transport
  • Number and position of casualties
  • Hazards (overhead power lines etc.)
  • Weather and environmental conditions
  • Other resources on scene

The potential contribution offered by air assets to a flooding event is considerable. The ARCC provides a common tasking procedure for all UK Search and Rescue (UKSAR) helicopters. No costs are charged to the emergency service in situations where life is at risk. For other purposes costs may be charged.

Police air support units, such as National Police Air Support (NPAS), Police Service of Northern Ireland Air Support Unit and Police Scotland Air Support Unit provide additional support, advice and communication links.

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Provide appropriate means of requesting assets from the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre and other available air support assets

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Consider the use of air support