30 September 2011
Emergency response volunteers raced to the scene to help 40 elderly people evacuated from their flats after a major fire in Surrey last night (29 September).
The Red Cross was called out to Esher just after midnight and five volunteers arrived to find the fire raging. They quickly set up a rest centre in the lounge of a nearby block, and supported the evacuees until longer-term arrangements could be made.
John Drudge, a fire and emergency support service (FESS) volunteer, led the Red Cross response. He said: “It was a very dramatic scene and, understandably, the elderly people who’d been woken up and dragged out of their homes were pretty traumatised.”
He added: “We can offer things like spare clothes, first aid, hygiene packs and food and drink, but equally important is that we’re trained to give people compassionate support in such difficult situations. Our volunteers also kept in touch with the emergency services so we could keep residents updated about what was happening.”
The whole experience was very upsetting for the residents. John said: “Some of the evacuees were very elderly, and extremely worried as there was a real risk some might have lost all their possessions. One lady, in particular, had been an artist and was very upset at the thought of losing her lifetime’s work. Unfortunately, it was too soon for us to be able to find out the scope of the damage, but we lent a listening ear and offered her reassurance in the meantime.”
As the night wore on, another rest centre was opened further away from the fire-damaged building and the volunteers helped move the evacuees there so they could be cared for by the council. In total, they stayed at the scene for seven hours.
Looking back on the incident, John said: “I’ve attended a lot of fires with the Red Cross, but this was definitely one of the more challenging incidents. I’m glad we could be there to make a difference to the evacuees in what was evidently a terrible crisis.”
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