Cloaked by the darkness of night, a team of experts in protective suits combed the river bank in the heart of Salisbury.
The people of the city had no need to fear a Russian chemical weapons attack this time, however.
The methodical scouring of the River Avon was being carried out by search and rescue volunteers from the Serve On disaster response charity, combining their normal water rescue training with clearing rubbish from the river on behalf of Salisbury City Council.
It may have been the Christmas season but it was a normal training night for members of Serve On’s Salisbury Community Resilience Team.
A dozen volunteers descended on the river below Salisbury Clock Tower to practice their flood rescue skills, only they weren’t looking for any missing persons in the water.
It was the river itself that needed help.
The team were searching for traffic cones, shopping trolleys and other large items of unsightly rubbish thrown into the river, any of which can hamper the water flow and increase the risk of flooding during heavy rain storms, as well as looking ugly at low water.
While four members of the team in full water rescue kit used ropes and their extendable carbon-fibre reach-poles to drag rubbish from the river bed, other volunteers provided safety cover for the ‘rescuers’ and reassured passing pedestrians who might have worried what was going on after the novichok poisoning drama of 2018.
As a small crowd gathered on the Fisherton Street bridge, near the King’s Head Inn, the volunteers cleared several large items of rubbish, including parts of an old boat.
Then they returned to their base at Salisbury Fire Station.
2019 will bring plenty more training sessions to make sure the volunteers are ready to help their community in a severe weather event or other crisis.
Their first search of the year, however, is to find a new home in the city since they have outgrown the garages at the Fire Station and will be moving out in the Spring.
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