By day he’s a chemistry lecturer, but volunteer Fabrice Birembaut spends his nights helping people caught up in domestic fires and other emergencies, in the west Midlands.
I grew up in a fire station where my dad was the chief. He told us some horrid stories of desperate people who had lost everything after fire wrecked their homes. So when I came across the Red Cross’ fire and emergency support (FES), it really hit home.
I was already a first aid volunteer. But when I heard about FES, I thought it sounded like exactly the kind of service I’d liked to get involved in, so I signed up as a volunteer in 2006. Two volunteers need to be on duty for each shift. We just switch our pagers on and, if they go off, meet at the local fire station where our vehicle is based.
The FES vehicle is a converted motor home. It’s packed with everything someone would need in an emergency: from dry, warm clothes to baby food, a dog lead, hygiene packs and – of course – facilities to make those much-needed cups of tea. And because it has seats, toilets and a shower, it represents a safe haven where anyone can feel at ease and rest.
We quickly get the ball rolling at an emergency scene. The fire commanding officer gives us a brief rundown of the situation and points us towards the people in need, then we’re off. Besides dealing with insurance companies and social services, we make sure the people we’re helping are at least sorted for the night and that things have started moving in the right direction.
Loads of people ask me why I do this. And my answer is always the same: there is no better feeling than going back to bed at four in the morning knowing that another family is sleeping safely again.
I recall one freezing winter night when it was snowing. We found a family, with two young children and a baby only a few months old, standing in the snow without shoes or any clothes other than what they’d been sleeping in. We gave them shoes, warm clothing and drinks, and also some privacy so Mum could breastfeed the little one. We stayed with them all night – way past our normal duty time – until we were sure they had somewhere safe and warm to go.
I wouldn’t give up this service in a million years. We provide invaluable help to the whole community and also relieve fire crews so they can concentrate on putting out fires and getting on to the next call-out, knowing the occupants of the house are safe and cared for. I’d encourage anyone to join us.
Become a FES volunteer