Crew members of the Cyprus ambulance service have recently been trained in how to respond to a radiological emergency for the first time.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the online course was designed for ambulance crews working for the Cyprus ambulance service’s HART (Hazardous Aria Response Team) and covered essential first steps.

To accommodate the working schedule of the ambulance staff, who worked in double shifts during this course, three sessions were organised — with the inaugural virtual training event held from January 11 to 15, followed by two more sessions in late January.

“10 ambulance crew members attended the first session, while 13 and 11 additional medical first responders from the HART attended the second and third sessions respectively,” the IAEA noted.

Beginning with a broad overview of relevant concepts and general on-scene guidance, the training courses explored the radiation protection principles which apply to all first responders, and the details on the specific functions and duties of ambulance crew and medical technicians.

“This was the first IEC virtual training course on first responders conducted in Cyprus for the ambulance service,” said Stacey Horvitz, an associate emergency preparedness officer in the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC).

“Participants were able to learn not only the theoretical aspects of responses to nuclear or radiological emergencies, but they were also engaged in practical virtual sessions that enabled them to enhance their capabilities in various reality-based scenarios on first response.”

The first responders learned how best to assign duties and allocate resources under moments of extreme pressure. They were briefed on basic hazards they might face and how best to protect themselves and those at the scene affected by radiation. The training also included a series of tabletop scenarios for medical personnel and response officials, simulating emergency scenarios that required both quick reactions and close coordination to address.

“When a radiological incident occurs, ambulances, police officers and fire fighters are often the first to reach the scene. Time is a critical factor in a radiological emergency and the actions taken by first responders in the minutes and hours following an incident can determine how minimal or extensive its impacts become,” the IAEA explained.