Police forces from across the country were faced with an overturned fuel tanker, casualties and queues of traffic as part of a training exercise at Alconbury Weald yesterday (Tuesday).

Headed up by the Road Policing Unit (RPU), Cambridgeshire officers were told nothing except that a tanker had rolled over on the ‘A1’, before arriving to find 39,000 litres of aviation fuel onboard.

They also discovered there had been a collision with a white Transit van, with a passenger trapped inside.

Within minutes though, fire crews had negotiated a queue of mock traffic, escorted a volunteer smoking a cigarette away from the spill, rescued the passenger, and towed the van, all the while piecing information together about the incident.

The team at Alconbury WealdThe team at Alconbury Weald

“We see thousands of chemical vehicles come through our county every day and we need to know what the police, ambulance, and fire brigade need to do when one of these things is involved in an accident,” PC Stuart Appleton, from the RPU, said.

“The consequences of one of these could be catastrophic and we need to know what our capabilities are.”

After assessing the scene, officers evacuated a nearby school, and established that the driver of the lorry, who was walking wounded, did not speak English, while the van’s driver had run away.

Fire crews then contained the spill by placing a plastic water-filled barrier around the tanker, before bringing in recovery trucks and slowly inflating specialist cushions to help lift the lorry.

The exercise was watched by representatives from more than 30 police forces from across the country and business agencies.

The Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Drone Unit was in attendance too, helping to assess the scene from above before crews righted the tanker.

Jason Ablewhite, police and crime commissioner, said: “This is a rare occurrence to have something of this magnitude with a tanker going over and chemical spills, but frankly this sort of thing does happen, and we do live in an area where there is a high risk of it happening – we’re on one of the main arterial routes across the country which comes right the way through Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.

“It’s important that our officers are trained for these sorts of situations.”

The magnitude of the session, which, in total, saw 22 firemen, five police officers, an ambulance, recovery vehicles, and assistance from the US Air Force Fire Service, is thought to be the first for nearly a decade.

After three and a half hours, the ‘road’ was reopened with the trapped passenger in hospital with minor injuries.

PC Appleton added: “We’ve all come together and our working practices have worked today and shown us what we can do when we work together.”