accessibility & help

‘I help people at house fires’

FES volunteer Tom Newman in action
What makes someone get out of bed in the middle of the night to go and help a stranger whose home has burned down? Tom Newman sheds some light.

This is truly a unique service.
I’m a volunteer with the British Red Cross’ fire and emergency support service. Basically, we get called out by the fire service whenever there’s a house fire. No-one else offers this kind of help to residents.

We have the right equipment.
Every team has a special camper-style vehicle. Each one is equipped with spare clothes, a shower, hygiene packs, first aid kits, hot food and drink, and a quiet seating area.

I know our role is so important.
The fire service’s job, by law, is to fight and control a fire, then get straight back to the station in case there’s another call-out. So when a family is left standing on a rainy street in their pyjamas, we can be an absolute lifeline.

People are always hungry for information.
A big part of our role is making sure everyone’s kept in the loop. People obviously want to know what’s going on, so we talk regularly to the emergency services and keep them up-to-date.

We take care of the practical details…
We deal with the immediate tasks: contact the insurance company, find temporary accommodation, arrange to get the homes boarded up. Sometimes, I’ll go back into a burnt-out house later to retrieve medication or other necessities.

…but our priority is the people.
We’re trained to provide emotional support – it’s all about giving people the space to talk and process what has just happened. They are dealing with a very difficult experience, so we help them get through the initial shock and come to terms with what is going on.

I always wanted to volunteer.
Some of my friends were already FES volunteers, and I signed up on my 18th birthday [the minimum age for this kind of volunteering]. I thought: here’s a great opportunity to help people and give back to my community. Plus, I get to do something different on every call-out.

The sense of satisfaction is immense.
Needless to say, I find the role very rewarding: people always thank us and really appreciate our support. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve helped someone during their very lowest moment.

You learn quickly on the job.
Because we’re used to emergency situations, our team tends to improvise well and think of useful ideas that might not occur to someone dealing with the shock of a house fire. My experience has taught me lots of little things that come in useful.

There are definite peaks and troughs of activity.
We operate on monthly rotas. Some months are quite busy with call-outs, while others are much more quiet. You can’t really predict these things. But you only need to volunteer for times where you know you’ll be available.

I’m much more outgoing now.
The whole volunteer experience has been great for my self-confidence. Before joining the fire and emergency support service I wasn’t much good at talking to strangers, but now I do it all the time on call-outs. It’s something that has definitely helped in my day-to-day life.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I would encourage anyone who thinks all this sounds interesting to get in touch and learn more about what we do. We always need more volunteers and it’s a great experience.

Learn more about our fire and emergency support service.

Want to help? Become a FES volunteer.

Related Tags:


Emergency response stories

We helped the Dawes family after their house caught fire. Their neighbours were so impressed by our volunteers they even raised money to help fund our work.

When a water pipe burst, an elderly couple were beside themselves with worry – until our volunteers arrived.