Every weekend hundreds of us rock up to the Firestation, get pissed and stumble home. But what about the real firestation’s all round the country and the men and women who serve the public.

With the first ever International Firefighters’ Day taking place in May this year Ed Sherry donned a yellow helmet and waited for his bell to start ringing.

Ever heard of Linton? I thought not, yet for me it will always be a place that had a huge impact on my life. You see in December last year five firefighters tragically lost their lives there in the worst incident of its kind since 1983.

A 17 year old who had just finished school, the electrician who had just given him a summer job, a taxi driver, a security man and one of their mates. Five ordinary guys motivated to do something extraordinary with their lives.

This didn’t happen in the UK but in Australia, thousands of miles away and as far as I know it was never even reported in the UK press. I spent two months in Australia last summer, staying with friends, one of whom is a committed and dedicated member of the fireservice.

I didn’t know these guys though. I’d never met them, never been to Linton, but it didn’t change the emotional impact that reading what had happened had on me. This is from ‘The Age’, a newspaper in Australia. “As dawn broke yesterday over the patch of scrubby state forest where it happened it was hard to believe the holocaust of the night before. For a start, it was cold. There were boggy sections of track, still wet from spring rains. It was still, and the chirpy chorus of birds in the scorched trees was at odds with the awful scene close by. Kangaroos grazed peacefully in the still-green grass the flames missed. Wisps of smoke seeped dreamily from a thousand tiny flames scattered through the ranks of blackened tree trunks. At the death scene, an eerie calm had fallen after a hectic night.

The stricken tanker was found on a bulldozed track only 70 metres from a gravel road, on the other side of which the bush is unburnt. The doomed men were that close – or that far – from safety.”

Powerful stuff. But why do men and women become Firefighter’s? Put their lives at risk for the sake of others? I don’t think I can understand it fully and I’m not sure I ever will. I think there is something inside, a feeling that inspires or drives you. I went to speak to some Firefighters at Red Hill Park Firestation, just a ten-minute walk from Uni. I don’t think that even they could really tell me why, but they tried. Leading Firefigher Karen Adams is the only full time female Firefighter in Dorset: “I don’t know, I’m glad that I joined though. I do enjoy helping people and it’s very satisfying. Obviously its not always satisfying but you go some places and you canhelp you just get a good feeling really.”Kelvin Harris is the driver: “I want to serve the public really. I want to help people out; it’s what I like doing so it’s good. That’s all.”

Ewan McNeash: “I think it’s nice to be able to provide a service for the public. I think that people really appreciate the Fireservice.” It sounds a cliché, but it isn’t. Maybe it is just something you can’t really understand without the shared experience of belonging to the Firefighting family.

What has this got to do with International Firefighters’ Day? Well, JJ Edmondson is a friend of mine. She is a firefighter and Lieutenant for the CFA a voluntary organisation in the state of Victoria, Australia. The Country Fire Authority is responsible for an area the size of England and 2.4 million people. Most bush fire’s, property fires and rescues in this area are dealt with by 65 000 volunteers and 800 paid staff. The volunteers ` work without pay and are on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

JJ also works full time for the CFA, running a cadet programme called the Youth Crew project, getting teenagers involved in the Fireservice and on top of this devotes most of her spare time to representing CFA on committees or as an instructor.

It was after the loss of the five fellow firefighters that JJ decided to establish a day that was recognised internationally as one where the community could: “Show support for firefighters world-wide. Recognise their level of commitment and dedication, remember those lost or injured in the line of duty, as a mark of respect and just to say thank you.”

Initially CFA organised the wearing of red ribbons as a mark of respect to the lost firefighters and to their families. JJ promoted this via the Internet and the CFA, the Victorian community and fire crews as far away as the USA adopted this symbol at the time; from this International Firefighters’ Day grew.

“The letters of support and the fellowship that followed from the tragedy spurred me to set a New Year’s resolution for 1999. To organise an internationally recognised symbol of support and a date for which this could be co-ordinated world wide.”

With support from around the world JJ was able to decide on a date and a symbol. On May 4 this year the first ever International Firefighters’ Day will take place, with wearing a red and a blue ribbon pinned together a simple way of showing support.

Already over here the Chief Fire Officers Association, the Fire Brigades Union and the National Firefighter’s Benevolence fund have all pledged their support. Now it is up to the fireservice to promote the day and for the public to listen.

Speaking on the day of a memorial service Mr Len Foster, the executive chairman of the CFA said of the lost firefighters: “They were special because they were dedicated. They sacrificed their personal time to ensure the community was a safer place and they recognised the dangers and unpredictability of fire, but they were still willing to serve.” The same could be said of any other firefighter, wherever they serve or whatever incident they attend.

So, if you are at the “Old firestation” on May 4, having a good time, a few drinks. Or if you are woken in the middle of the night by the alarm in Cranbourne house, take a moment, wear a ribbon and say “Thank you”.

It isn’t asked for, or expected, but when a gesture is offered it means so much. The Fireservice has a prayer: “When I am called to duty God, wherever flames may rage, give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age… And if according to your will I have to lose my life, please bless with your protecting hand all whom I’ve loved in life.”

Makes you think.


Source: Nerve Media, United Kingdom