Firefighters fly 6,000 miles to share their knowledge, skills and comradery with counterparts in Kenya – and see how their contribution is saving lives overseas. Image:Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

A training expedition like no other

A group of more than 20 emergency service staff, including volunteers from Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS), 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 was born in Meru, Kenya. They established the partnership in Kenya over a decade ago. Volunteers from the Service first visited in 2009 following a donation of vehicles and equipment.

Since then, all three fire and rescue services and ambulance trust have donated tens of thousands of pounds of life-saving equipment to their Kenyan counterparts.

Beds Fire donated two fire engines

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

BFRS donated two fire engines, fully loaded with equipment, at the end of 2018. On this expedition, it 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. 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.

“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.”

Firefighter training in Kenya Image Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service

Problems finding cars to cut up for training sessions

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

As cars are so valuable in Kenya, even those that had been written off, it was a challenge to find vehicles to practise on.

“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.”

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.

Chief Fire Officer Paul Fuller CBE said:

“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.”