FIREFIGHTERS filled the car park of New College yesterday and erected large tents as they prepared to decontaminate dozens of students.

The response was not the result of a terrorist attack or nuclear spillage, but was instead an exercise for the Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service to test out its equipment.

After the terrorist attacks on America in 2001 the emergency services sought to check they had the right equipment to deal with any attack on the UK and any other large scale incidents.

By 2004 more than £56m had been spent on providing specialist equipment, with the fire station at Westlea receiving state-of-the art emergency tools.

Yesterday, along with some willing volunteers studying public services at New College, the unit put the decontamination equipment through its paces.

The crew erected two tents in the college car park as they re-enacted a real-life disaster.

One of the tents was pumped up and used to decontaminate any firefighters who came into contact with the victims.

The other was a series of three pop-up tents designed for the people affected by the incident to use.

After leaving the affected area, the students were asked to take the majority of their clothes off, despite the freezing temperatures, because 80 per cent of the contamination is in the clothing.

They then put on orange ponchos and rubber shoes before lining up to go through the decontamination procedure.

The first tent allowed the students to get changed down to their swimwear, before stepping into the second tent wear they were hosed down with a mixture of warm water and detergent.

The final tent had warm air blown in to it to dry the students off before they got changed into green ponchos to show they had been through the process.

In a real life situation they would then be seen by medical staff to ensure they were not suffering from any adverse effects from the incident.

Group manager for Swindon, Ian Jeary, said: “An exercise like this has many advantages, it gives us the training and the ability to practice with the equipment.

“It also enables us to carry out community engagement by coming to the college, who we are thankful to for letting us have this time and space, and speaking to the students.

“This equipment is here not just for terrorist attacks but for any major incident that might require people to be decontaminated so it could be used in Swindon, but we may also be called anywhere across the country if needed.”

Despite the cold weather the students were not deterred and said it was a useful insight into how the fire service works.

Freya Elliott, 16, from Haydon Wick said: “It was good because we are always learning about the different services so to be able to see first hand what they do is a good experience. “I thought the process would be a lot longer, but it was well organised and the fire brigade were helpful.”