Firefighters fly 6,000 miles to share their knowledge, skills and comradery with counterparts in Kenya

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue in Kenya
20 British emergency service personnel attended (9 Bedfordshire, 5 Buckinghamshire, 1 Hertfordshire, and 5 EEAST). Photo: Stephen Allwright

A group of more than 20 emergency service staff have continued to build a lasting relationship with Kenyan firefighters during a trip to the African country.

The volunteers from fire and rescue services in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire were joined by paramedics from the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST) for the two-week trip in the Spring.

Former Bedfordshire FRS firefighter Ray Willet co-founded the project with Fred Akandi, who lives in Dunstable but was born in Meru, Kenya. They established the partnership in Kenya over a decade ago, with volunteers from the Service first visiting in 2009 following a donation of vehicles and equipment.

Since then, there has been a strong bond between the Kenyan and British partners, which has seen all three fire and rescue services and ambulance Trust donate tens of thousands of pounds of life-saving equipment to their Kenyan counterparts.

The focus of this trip – the longest one ever completed – was to train Kenyan firefighters on the equipment most recently donated and pass on valuable skills and experience to help them on their firefighting mission.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue in Kenya
9 days of training were completed between April 23 – May 6, 2019. Photo: Stephen Allwright

Bedfordshire FRS donated two fire engines fully loaded with equipment at the end of 2018 and on this expedition, took bags full of old personal protective equipment (PPE) with them.

All 75 Kenyan firefighters along with police officers were also taught basic first responder skills, immediate medical care and bandaging techniques by ambulance staff.

Firefighter Ryan Phillips, based at Stopsley and Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, helped organise the trip and explained how lots of planning made sure everyone got the most out of it.

He said: “It’s a massively rewarding experience; you see an immediate change in the people you’re training. I found the Kenyan firefighters were very practical and learnt the techniques we were showing them quickly. They have really developed and grown in confidence because of the skills passed onto them by the volunteer trainers.”

Activities included basic firefighter training like how to use the fire engine, operate the pump, run out hose, vehicle marshalling, ladder pitching variations, knots and lines, hauling aloft and getting jets to work.

FF Phillips explained the English of their students was very good and it was simply a case of occasionally stripping back or adapting language to ensure everyone got the most out of the busy days.

He continued: “One of the biggest challenges is water supply as they have few hydrants. They do not have many complex structures in the more rural areas where we were training but they do have shanty towns where you can’t drive a fire engine to the fire so working through problems like this and giving them solutions was rewarding.”

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue in Kenya
75 Kenyan firefighters were trained. Photo: Stephen Allwright

Road traffic collisions are now becoming a big part of what the Kenyan fire crews are tackling and last year, Bedfordshire and Holmatro donated old cutting equipment.

FF Phillips explained: “A big challenge in training them to use the cutting equipment was obtaining a car to cut up and practise on. Vehicles are worth so much money, even if they’re a write off, so for us to get a car to train with and demonstrate the techniques on was fantastic. Working with what was available, we had a local timber yard make up wooden blocks to replicate the rubber ones we use for stabilising a vehicle. In another training scenario we used a live building site which was the perfect location for ladder pitches due to its exposed staircase.

“An additional challenge the various Kenyan fire services face is obtaining good working equipment as well as maintaining and repairing what they already have. This is a challenge with the older donated fire engines as replacement parts are rare and expensive. We continue to do what we can to support them.

“Since our return they’ve been sending us videos of what they’ve been doing with our training and it’s great to see it put to use.”

Paramedics also had the chance to visit a local hospital, which reported the difference the fire service has made in the last year with its ability to rescue people from RTCs as having made a huge impact on the number of crash victims surviving.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue in Kenya
Training took place in Kisumu, Chuka and Meru. Photo: Stephen Allwright

The volunteers were joined for part of their trip by Bedfordshire’s Chief Fire Officer Paul Fuller CBE and former Chairman of the Authority Cllr Paul Downing, who met with Kenyan Government Officials to discuss the fire and rescue service moving forward.

CFO Fuller explained how the training and supply of equipment is futureproofing the capabilities and providing resilience to small teams of Kenyan firefighters. He added: “Since we’ve been supporting this partnership, the areas that have benefited from equipment have reported many genuine cases where lives have been saved in both fire and rescue circumstances and on our trip this year I was encouraged by the continued passion and dedication of disaster management officials we met.”

Mr Downing added: “The trip was both eye-opening and encouraging. I was able to see first-hand that what BFRS has supplied is being put to best use.  It was good to see the energy and commitment of local staff and good to discuss with the officials how they might expand.”

The trip is only possible thanks to the generosity of the partners involved and the volunteers that contribute.

FF Phillips added: “People have put in a tremendous amount of effort to enable this extraordinary exercise to take place. From the volunteers who drove us to and from the airports, to those colleagues who work in stores, workshops, technical and driving – the list is endless. Thank you all so much. We hope you agree it’s a worthwhile cause.”

If you want to find out more about how your Service can donate equipment or volunteer, contact FF Phillips.

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