Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Looking after a fire victim.

Red Cross support service calls for volunteers

The Red Cross is looking for volunteers in the Hastings area to boost the numbers in its Fire and Emergency Support Service, which provides support to victims of fire in the immediate aftermath of an incident. Nick Terdre reports.

At present the Fire and Emergency Support Service (Fess) has eight volunteers operating out of Bohemia Road fire station in Hastings. They work on an on-call rota, covering about five days a week, service coordinator Morgan Mead tells HOT. The service is now looking to recruit another eight or so to enable it to extend coverage to seven days a week.

The job of the volunteers is to provide emotional support and practical assistance to the victims of fires, whose homes have been damaged or at worst destroyed. Once the immediate response to such an incident has been made by the emergency services – fire, police and ambulance – the fire service will notify the Red Cross if there are victims requiring support.

The Fess vehicle at the scene of an incident.

On receiving a call-out, the aim of the Fess team is to get to the scene within 90 minutes. They have a specially equipped vehicle based at Bohemia fire station, which looks a bit like a modified camper van, Morgan says. It’s quite cosy inside, with kitchen, toilet and other facilities creating an environment in which the team can comfort and look after fire victims, who are often in a distraught state – they may have lost everything in their homes and be left with nothing more than the clothes they are dressed in.

The volunteers will care for them, if necessary helping to find emergency accommodation using council services or by contacting relatives, and then take them there and stay for as long as they are needed. Equipment also includes a digital camera in case pictures have to be taken for insurance purposes.

During the recent fire in Hastings Old Town, two Fess teams were in attendance – one from Hastings and the other the West Sussex team which is based in Haywards Heath. They were called out at around 1am and stayed until about 6am.

In addition to victims, the teams also support the firefighters, who after a serious incident are likely to be exhausted and stressed, and more than ready to board the Fess vehicle for a cup of tea, a chocolate bar and some welcome care and attention.

Fess team members get a briefing.

The recruitment drive is now looking for volunteers ideally living within 20-30 minutes’ travel from Bohemia fire station. The minimum age for the service is 18 but there is no maximum, Morgan says – the oldest member of the team is 80. But this is a role that calls for serious commitment – when on call you have to be prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice to attend a call-out at any time of the day or night. It can be quite a harrowing job, dealing with people in the midst of a traumatic experience.

New recruits will receive full training for the role, as well as a general induction to the Red Cross and its services. This is provided at evening meetings over the course of a year. But once the newcomers have some basic training under their belt, they can attend incidents as observers to see how it is done. A Red Cross uniform is supplied, as well as high-visibility vests and hard hats, and all necessary equipment.

The Hastings Fess team is called out on average once or twice a month. Volunteers can choose how often they are on call – it may be as much as three days a week or as little as two days a month, Morgan says. In addition volunteers meet up twice a month for ongoing training, debriefing on recent call-outs, making sure the vehicle is fully equipped and sometimes to hear guest speakers.

Those interested in applying should call the Red Cross volunteering team in Sussex on 0800 023 0821 or send an email to Young people under 18 who are interested in learning about other ways of volunteering with the Red Cross are invited to contact Morgan on 01273 227 810, 07715 002 857 or at

Video on Red Cross support services.


Posted 16:07 Wednesday, Jun 4, 2014 In: Home Ground

Also in: Home Ground

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