Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland emergency services in accident agreement

Accident demonstration
Image caption The demonstration recreated the drama and tragedy of a real accident

The fire service, police and ambulance have signed a formal agreement to improve their efficiency and working practices at the scene of road crashes.

Northern Ireland is the first region of the UK to pursue such an initiative, and it comes during Road Safety Week.

On Tuseday, a demonstration of a "dramatic road traffic collision" was staged at Queen's University Belfast.

The demonstrations show how the services cooperate in response to real-life accidents.

Screams

The screams start suddenly, and cut sharply through the crisp November air.

People turn to look in surprise and quickly gather at the white tapes separating the elderly blue saloon car from the throng of students coming to and from Queen's library.

The screams from the actors in the car lessen as paramedics arrive and start to calm the injured.

Minutes later, the police have secured the scene and the fire and rescue service are setting about removing the doors and roof of the vehicle.

The assistant chief fire officer for Northern Ireland, Eoin Doyle told me they have been carrying out demonstrations like this one since 2008, and they are convinced it is making a difference.

"Fifty-one people have died on the roads in Northern Ireland this year," he said.

"The Fire and Rescue Service have attended over 800 collisions, and over 800 people have been casualties as a direct result of that.

He added: "We've seen a 50% reduction in road deaths in 2009, and I believe the work of the road rescue team brought about a significant impact there."

Now there is a larger group of students, and more arriving. There is a little nervous laughter at first, as they take in what they are seeing.

The crowd can see the bags of medical equipment, the drips attached to the driver, and still hear his hoarse cries.

The hum of the huge pincers increases as the roof pillars are severed.

Image caption An actress is zipped into a body bag as part of the demonstration

At an agreed moment, the firemen work together and in a matter of seconds, peel the roof of the car, making the job of removing the injured that bit easier.

The girl who was uninjured and escaped from the car to raise the alarm is being comforted by police officers.

The driver is moved gently on to a stretcher for removal to hospital, well within the target of ten minutes for which the paramedics are aiming.

Then the last job, the gentle removal of the final actor, a teenaged girl with dyed pink hair.

She is laid gently on the ground, and zipped carefully into a white body bag.

After a moment of reflection, the team carry her gently away.

There is no laughter now.