Meet the Keynsham team the emergency services call on in a crisis

Published on: 09 Mar 2014

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For those forced to flee their homes in the event of a fire the sight of a fire engine, sirens blazing and crew on the alert, must be a welcome one.

But as the firefighters on board get to work tackling the blaze it is perhaps a vehicle that arrives soon after that provides the most immediate relief to those left with nothing more than the clothes they stand in.

Driving this second vehicle are volunteers from the British Red Cross, called in by the emergency services to provide support and practical help to those who suddenly find themselves homeless – whether through fire, flood or even a power cut.

The vehicle driven by the charity’s Fire and Emergency Support Service (FESS), which is based at Keynsham fire station, is a mobile shelter filled with the things someone facing this kind of crisis might need in the hours after being forced out of their homes, from a cup of tea to a supportive, fully trained listening ear.

Holly James, FESS Gloucestershire co-ordinator, said: “When someone has a fire or emergency and is displaced from their home we offer support, we look after them while firefighters tackle the fire and provide immediate, temporary shelter, emotional support, clothing, toiletries and refreshments. We’ve got blankets, a shower and cooker onboard the vehicle, we can help people with sorting out somewhere else to go if need be and have phone numbers of other services to give people.

“When something like a fire happens it makes you realise how many things you need – we even have items for pets, such as dog bowls and leads. They have thought of everything.”

Each volunteer is fully trained in providing the emotional support needed and they can even accompany the victims as they go back inside their homes for the first time after the fire crews have made it safe.

Fire isn’t the only eventuality the team find themselves dealing with, as they can be called on to help households during a power cut, were on standby during the recent severe floods and are currently in talks with local search and rescue services to provide support to people with missing loved ones.

The FESS team and their vehicle have been based at Keynsham fire station in Temple Street for around 15 years. There are currently 15 volunteers – a number the team would like to double with a recruitment drive at the end of this month.

The team is available around the clock, 365 days of the year, with two volunteers on call during each shift, carrying a pager which is contacted by the fire service when support is needed. Volunteers then have 30 minutes to get to the fire station and get on their way to the scene of the latest emergency.

With varied backgrounds, most of the team have full-time jobs, said Holly, while others are retired and available during the daytime.

“Volunteers are all different ages and they all get involved for different reasons,” she said. “For some it’s a cause close to their hearts, some just want to help others, and some have been with the Red Cross for years. It’s definitely a rewarding role, it makes the volunteers proud that they help people, that’s what they enjoy.”

The FESS open day will be held at Keynsham fire station on Saturday, March 29, from 2-4pm, when the team’s vehicle and its equipment will be on show and volunteers will be available to answer any questions and explain the role they play in more detail.

The FESS team also rely fully on their own fundraising efforts, with volunteers coming up with ideas to bring in the donations, which this year could include a sponsored cyclathon.

For more information on the Red Cross Fire and Emergency Support Service, drop in at the Keynsham open day or call Holly James on 0117 3012632 or James Roberts on 0117 301 2619.

More information is also available at the British Red Cross website www.redcross.org.uk.

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