Looking through all the photos on my computer today, I came across this photo, taken by a colleague using my mobile phone. ‘Fireman Sam’ is a popular children’s animation programme in the UK, so I thought the title of this post was appropriate.
When I first moved to Norfolk, I wanted to do some voluntary work. I started off as a cycling safety instructor, working odd days in the local school to teach the youngsters how to cycle safely on the road. I then noticed an advertisement in the local newspaper for volunteers to work in the Community Safety section of the local Fire and Rescue Service. With my former connections to the emergency services in London, this seemed a logical step, so I applied. After a short interview, I was accepted. They sent me on a training course and supplied uniform and travel expenses to use my own car.
The main part of the job was checking and installing smoke alarms for the elderly and disabled residents around the region. Working a couple of days a week, I would call on five or six houses, and make sure that they knew about fire safety precautions, as well as installing the alarms, and giving advice. This was all provided free of charge, and I thought it was a very worthwhile part-time activity. I was later asked to participate in the Schools ‘Fire Experience’ programme. We had a large portable cabin that was rigged with assorted fire hazards. This would be placed in a certain spot, and children would be brought in from all over Norfolk for a ten-minute ‘experience’ and instructional talk.
As the climax of the session, the lights would go out, and fake ‘smoke’ would be pumped in, alongside a recording of smoke alarms going off, and the distant sound of sirens, indicating the arrival of help. Inside the cabin, other volunteers would instruct the children to keep low, shout for help, and wait for assistance from the Fire and Rescue Service. Before all this happened, one of us would be hidden away in a small cupboard outside, waiting for the moment when we would crawl into the cabin. Helmet torch shining, visor down, breathing apparatus attached, we would shout for the children to use the emergency exit. Some of the smaller children were actually very scared by it all, and it was just as well that they always had a teacher to accompany them.
I did enjoy my time doing this, but it unfortunately became very repetitive when you were doing the same thing five times an hour, for four hours at a time, over three days. Being shut in the cupboard for most of the time wearing all that gear was also quite uncomfortable! I carried on for quite a long time, until rumours circulated that the funding would be pulled for this the following year. Having done my bit, I resigned from the job, and began to concentrate on writing, and different volunteering opportunities.