Here, slightly later than intended, is my post about a ‘typical’ FESS shout.

Something, somewhere in Norfolk catches fire. Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) get the call and they send the appropriate number of appliances as required. Once they are on scene, the officer in command (OIC) will decide what, if any, extra resources they require. Often, this will include the services of the FESS. They radio NFRS control who then alert the FESS crew.

The first we usually know about a shout is a text message “FESS Deployment” that all of us on the crew get. If we are able to respond, we call the duty co-ordinator and let them know we are available. Once two or three crew have called in, the co-ordinator lets everyone who can respond know as well as informing NFRS control that there’s a crew available.

When I’m told it’s a ‘go’, I throw on my Red Cross work wear (branded fleece, combat trousers and polo shirt), work boots and head off to the fire station where the vehicle is kept.

At the station, the first one there will fill out the call-out book and ring through to NFRS control for them to send the turn out sheet to the printer in the watch room. This gives the details of the incident including address, appliances and officers detailed to it. When the second crew arrives we’ll get the keys for the vehicle, the sat nav and the 2-way radios we use on scene and we are good to go.

Because we aren’t an emergency vehicle we make our way to the scene at normal road speeds, so for jobs in the far reaches of the county, it can take up to an hour to arrive.

Once on scene, the passenger will go and find the OIC and see where they want us to park while the driver stays with the vehicle and calls Control to let them know we’re on scene. For big incidents like thatch fires up narrow lanes we may have to park a fair distance away, for others there will be road closures in place that we have to get permission to go through. You never quite know what it’s going to be like and as you get closer the adrenaline picks up. I’ve not been to one where we could see the flames from a distance yet but have been to one where we could smell the smoke from a good ¾ of a mile away.

Depending where we end up getting parked we’ll turn on the amber flashing lights if we are a ‘hazard’ and then go and find the householders to see what help we can offer. Mostly it’s tea and sympathy is all that’s needed and we are well practiced at that. The vehicle has good heating and comes in very handy for winter incidents. At one I went to in December 2010, the air temperature was -8°C and the family hadn’t brought any coats with them, so a hot van was essential.

Often the householders will have been taken in by neighbours so one of us will go with them and the other will stay with the FRS and we’ll pass messages between the two over the radio as required. These are often about getting insurance documents and car keys etc out of the house as the fire-fighters can go in often but we and the householders can’t as it’s usually still too dangerous.

Other services we’ve offered include providing toiletry packs, fetching nappies for toddlers, providing somewhere for pets in baskets to be sheltered away from the chaos and assisting householders getting in touch with insurers.

A lot of people are either too shaken or very uncomfortable to speak to their insurers at that point so we can call on their behalf as we know what questions the insurance company will ask and we can be emotionally uninvolved. We will try our best to ensure that a loss assessor will arrive as soon as possible and, where required, the property is made secure. The sooner the insurers know, the quicker things can start to be put right. We also advise householders about what to do and not do before the assessor arrives.

If the property is rented or housing association owned, we can also contact the out of hours service of the local housing office and try to get urgent short-term accommodation arranged. As we are a professional agency, we tend to get a faster response than just a member of the public phoning in. Also, if we have a significant delay getting a response, we can get NFRS Control to call them as well.

We stay on scene for as long as we are needed. For the shouts I’ve been on, this has varied from 45 minutes to five hours. It all depends on need and we are always happy to be there for as long as required.

Once we are ready to return, we call Control to let them know we are available again and make our way back to Sprowston. Back at the station we complete the paperwork about the vehicle’s mileage and how long we’ve been on duty, connect the power to the vehicle, store the radios and sat nav and replace anything that’s been used up. We’ll call Control to let them know we are back at the station so they’ll go back to the text system if they need us again. Once that’s all done, we lock up and head home.

We can go weeks without a shout or, as happened just before Christmas, we had four within 24 hours! The call outs for the second and fourth came as I was getting into bed after the first and third so I thought it best not to turn out unless they couldn’t get a crew together. I’m glad to say they did, covering the busiest 24 hours in the unit’s ten years of being ‘on the run’.

As I’ve said before, this is all provided free of charge to both the householder and NFRS due to volunteers and the British Red Cross funding it. To help raise funds to enable this sort of work to carry on, I’m doing a 200ft abseil in the City of London on 24th June. If you’d like to contribute, details can be found on my Just Giving page.

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