This is an article that has appeared on the 500ways.org website about one of our volunteers Matt Hitam and the Moldova project.
After the collapse of the Former Soviet Union in 1991, many of Moldova’s fire stations closed down leaving the country with just 144 Soviet fire engines (now decades old) to cover a population now estimated at around 4 million. Only 15 of Moldova’s own fire engines have the capability to extricate casualties from vehicles – in a country with the third highest road fatality rate in Europe this can help to explain why 13.9 people per 100,000 population die as a result of road traffic collisions, as opposed to the UK’s rate of 3.7. This brings high socio-economic costs at around 3% of the Moldovan GDP as well as high loss of life. Factors contributing to this include the length of time for rescue assistance to reach incidents and a lack of necessary equipment and know-how to respond effectively, particularly regarding extrication.
Several UK organisations are working together as members of FIRE AID – an association of organisations providing ethical, sustainable donations of fire and rescue equipment to other countries – to improve the capabilities of the Moldovan fire service and to reduce deaths, particularly on the road. One of those organisations is Operation Florian whose volunteers provide fire engines, equipment and training to communities across the globe. UK firefighter Matt Hitam joined Operation Florian in 2004 to share his expertise and to cooperate with fellow firefighters around the world. As a full time Crew Manager from East Sussex, Matt and his crew respond to road traffic collisions, fires, floods, animal rescues and other emergencies in Crowborough and the surrounding area – regularly rescuing people, property, and livestock in his local community.
“Being a firefighter is challenging enough even with the right resources, training and structures. Unfortunately many of our colleagues in other parts of the world are not equipped to respond in a way that is safe for them or best for the casualty. Volunteering with Florian means that myself and other UK firefighters can help to change this and working in Moldova we are beginning to see the impact of our work.”
Matt is part of a team from the UK that has delivered to date 12 UK fire engines to stations across Moldova, hydraulic cutting equipment to aid with the response to RTCs, a rescue boat and large quantities of PPE and other firefighting equipment along with weeks of expert training provided by UK volunteers who are required in a variety of roles including convoy driving (delivery of fire appliances and equipment), instruction in firefighting techniques, road traffic collision instruction, project management, water rescue instruction and other areas.
At the fire stations receiving donations, Moldovan fire fighters are reporting lives saved, improved response times, and increased public confidence in their work, among other benefits. At Ialoveni fire station, firefighters responded to a number of serious road traffic collisions within a few months of receiving a UK fire engine and equipment at which crews were able to extricate seven people who were physically trapped. The crew said they would not have been able to save these lives previously without the UK-donated cutting equipment.
“This is why we volunteer,” says Matt. “Making a difference to firefighters in other countries, helping them to serve their communities, and learning from them too….it’s a two way exchange that is just as valuable for us as it is for them.”
For more information about work carried out in Moldova: http://www.fire-aid.org/projects/republic-moldova?destination=node/19