As I’ve mentioned, one of my areas of interest is major incidents and disasters. This week has had a couple of events on that theme for me.

I’ve been volunteering for the British Red Cross (BRC) as part of their Fire and Emergency Support Service (FESS) since September 2009. We work alongside the other emergency services and support the people involved in the incidents both practically (tea, blankets, transport, housing) and emotionally in the short term during and immediately after an incident. We arrive in a modified camper van based at Sprowston fire station and then see how we can help. No two jobs have been the same for me and I get a huge sense of satisfaction from being able to provide a little help when people are in crisis. My last ‘shout’ was last week and was my tenth.

All the FESS volunteers are also Emergency Response volunteers. These are the people the BRC will call out to help for major incidents. BRC emergency response volunteers were involved in assisting following the July 7th attacks in London and distributing water to vulnerable people in Gloucestershire following the floods.

Here in Norfolk, one of our pre-planned roles is to help out at Norwich Airport if there’s any major incident there. So, on Tuesday night a number of FESS and First Aid volunteers went up to the airport for a familiarisation visit. We’d be assisting any survivors or people who’ve come to the airport to meet them. A lot of this involves documenting who people are and who (if anyone) they are looking for so people can be reunited as soon as possible and anyone missing can be discovered. This is the simple bit as it’s all a process and focuses the mind. The tricky bit is remaining calm and doing what you can to comfort those who may have just been through the worst experience of their lives. The visit was part of an ongoing process of training and testing that all the agencies connected with the airport go through, building up to an exercise later in the year. It’s a funny feeling walking round the airport with the everyday functions going on around you but knowing how it would all change should the worst happen. I’m sure a lot of other volunteers would agree there’s that satisfaction about knowing your skills would be put to good use but there’s also a fear as to how we’d react and a hope that we never have to use them for real.

The fear is threefold really. It’s a fear of letting the victims and their families and friends down; not giving them the best support we can. It’s a fear of letting our fellow volunteers and the BRC down; we work closely with each other and there’s trust and respect there. Finally there’s the fear that we’ll let ourselves down; we think we know how we’d react but at the back of the mind there’s that tiny doubt as to whether we are cut out for this. Only time will tell. I’ll be happy if I’m never called out but, if called, will go with my colleagues and do what we can.

The second event was a meeting of all the FESS volunteers. We range from our early 20s to late 60s and come from all walks of life. Some have been on the team since the FESS first rolled out ten years ago and some are brand new, waiting for their first ‘shout’. There were lots of updates about what the FESS had been up to, a viewing of the new promotional DVD and then some ‘proper’ training.

As we are most likely to be working with the Fire and Rescue Services, it’s been agreed to teach us how they assist in reversing and manoeuvring their vehicles so we do the same with ours. That way, at an incident, they can guide us and us them if required. We tripped out into the mild drizzle in the car park and all had a go at reversing the vehicle through 90 degrees into a parking space whilst being guided back. It’s fairly simple, only four basic signals but takes a bit of getting used to as two of the moving arm signals are given together. It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. We must have been successful as we didn’t bump the vehicle or run anyone over and the vehicle ended up where it was ‘aimed’ for all of us. It will be fun the first time we use it ‘in anger’ when it’s bound to be raining, dark or both. I’m sure it’ll get easier with practice.

Well that was all the disaster related fun I had this week. None planned for next week but I might blog about a ‘typical’ FESS shout.

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