In 2012 the Board received a request to assist a small community Sao Bras de Alportal in Portugal with some PPE and extrication equipment. The Board approved the request and 40 sets of PPE and one set of cutting and spreading equipment, along with numerous items of small equipment were sent. The community raised the funds to pay for the delivery of the equipment and for trainers from Florian to attend. Thanks to David Hopkins this was a successful first foray into Portugal.
It is reasonable for members to ask why when there are so many countries in desperate need that a wealthy western European country needs such help from a Charity. Portugal has suffered from the same financial crisis that UK and other European countries has suffered and as such has little money to invest in public services.
The fire and rescue service in Portugal consists of 10% paid professionals and 90% volunteer. Although in many of the volunteer communities receive some assistance from their local mayor for fire stations, fire appliances etc they still have to compete with other services. For example in the very south west of Portugal, on the Algarve is the community of Aljezur. It has been there since the 10th Century. They have 90 volunteer firefighters but only 14 sets of PPE. They operate 5 fire appliances ranging from the normal water tenders to the specialist rescue cliff rescue and water rescue vehicles.
This meant that in a large fire where more than one appliance was deployed only 2 crews were equipped with PPE, the remainder in t shirts and trousers. They have two control room members that with volunteers cover the 24 hours between them and 8 part time paid firefighters that also operate the ambulances. They cover an area or 125 square miles that is bounded by the sea and contains many square kilometre of forest that form the bedrock for the local economy and tourism. The community is only 5000 strong so the costs of providing all the same local services as we would enjoy falls on a small population. There is enormous support from the community and from the ex-pats community in the many local small villages. It is here that much of the funds raised and the energy for supporting the fire and other local services comes from.
The fire service, although predominantly volunteer has statutory responsibilities under the Portugal Civil Protection mechanism and in Aljezur the Fire Chief is also the Head of Civil Protection.; assuredly a short line of communication!
The Projects to date
Operation Florian has now delivered to complete projects since the Board first gave approval in 2011. The first was mentioned in the introduction, in Sao Bras ds Alportal and the second in 2013 was to Aljezur in the Algarve. These have been received very well by the local communities and the demonstrations of their skills in using the newer extrication equipment shows that the project has a very positive outcome on the safety for the local communities, ex pats and visitors alike. The next project in planned with a community of Morau and is sponsored by an ex volunteer firefighter from the station who now lives and works in Surrey with her partner. She heard about Operation Florian through some local news about the involvement of Shepperton Aurora Rotary Club in funding and supporting the delivery of the equipment to Aljezur. This shows the very positive impact post project publicity can have.
Like most projects we look to have a degree of co-funding in order that there is ownership and longer term sustainability. In the two cases to date we were supported in the delivery by local communities raising the funds to pay for the delivery and training and the burden to Florian was solely on the UK collection, checking and testing of the PPE and Equipment before transportation.
For Aljezur the local ex-pat community AMOVATE was the stimulus and approached Operation Florian. One member of AMOVATE who has a home in the community of Vale de Teha, Aljezur is also a member of Shepperton Aurora Rotary Club and collectively they provided the support that enabled this project to be delivered in September 2013.
A big vote of thanks in particular to David Good and Doreen Pipe of Shepperton Aurora Rotary with whom we now have a strong relationship that can help advise and offer support for future projects under the Florian banner anywhere in the world. We now have a strong presence and ahigh profile in Portugal. We have linked with one of the Bomberios in Aljezur, Davide Cost who is now our local contact and the liaison with the VT firefighter community. We are sure the growing profile will lead to more requests for help.
We are actively fund raising with the Portuguese community of Morau, Shepperton Aurora Rotary and the Anglo Portuguese Society for the next project. Morau is a small community in the central region of Portugal, with 20 firefighters, 2 appliances but with no working RTC equipment and only 5 sets of PPE.
If you want to be involved in supporting the current or a future project in Portugal then please contact Cathy Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mike Thomas (email@example.com).