A fire engine was at Wallington on Tuesday, but there was no panic as it went along as part of an emergency training exercise, held in partnership with the Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS).
The boiler in the basement catching fire scenario put into practice the National Trust’s plans for managing an emergency situation, which also includes a flooding incident.
Wallington remained open to the public during this time.
Ahead of the exercise, a session led by Darren Nelson from NFRS focused on how the National Trust would respond to such emergencies.
Collection handling training and object ‘first aid training’ were also covered in the session, including furniture, paintings, large objects and packing small objects.
The trainers were the National Trust’s regional conservation consultants and a freelance conservator.
The start of the exercise was signalled by the arrival of a fire engine at Wallington at 1pm, as if a real-life emergency was taking place.
During the fictional scenario, staff worked with the fire service to initially ‘ensure the safety’ of all staff, volunteers and visitors and subsequently the evacuation of the valuable collections from the main house.
NFRS set-up a cordon at the back door, consulted staff and then entered the property.
They ‘extinguished the fire’, removed the two fictional casualties for first aid and ensured the property was safe for the recovery teams to enter.
The National Trust’s emergency plan was then initiated. This specifically included activating the recovery teams to enter the house to begin the removal of the collections from the affected areas.
This also set off the chain of communication regarding who to inform within the National Trust to instigate the required actions both on and off site.
The incident co-ordinator at Wallington put into action other aspects of the plan – such as welfare, communications and security.
For the scenario, there were three rooms in the house that needed emptying.
They were a store in the basement where objects will have got wet, an unfortunate but essential consequence of dowsing the fire, the servants parlour on the ground floor and the Great Western on the first floor.
The recovery personnel were split into wet and dry. The wet team made wind tunnels and set-up fans to dry the books and the room was soon full of wet documents pegged onto clothes lines.
There was an inventory of the collections to be recovered, with a mixture of props and real objects.
A series of so-called Star items were identified as a priority to be rescued first because they were considered of the highest significance.
All items were documented to ensure that nothing was unaccounted for or misplaced and everything could be returned to its correct position within the house.
Sally Richards, general manager at Wallington, said: “Our role as Europe’s largest conservation charity is to look after special places like Wallington, so it’s crucial that we know what to do should an emergency happen in real life.
“We have come away from the training exercise with some useful observations that we can include in our emergency plans going forward and we thank the fire service and staff for delivering a very successful training exercise.”