This year’s entry into the Extrication Challenge for a Macedonian national team not only signalled another important step forward for the rescue skills and technical development of firefighters in the Macedonian fire and rescue service. It demonstrated the opportunities and necessity of successful partnership between Operation Florian, UKRO and sponsorship from Vimpex when delivering international development projects.
Partnerships between various stakeholders has been an absolutely essential component within this project bringing tremendous added value to achieving the overall objectives. Operation Florian has developed a credible identity within Macedonia as an effective NGO with over 18 years of project experience globally and 7 years of continued success and development within Macedonia. However, despite its success it recognises that projects such as this can be extremely resource and time intensive. Equally, even though some of the project members are competitors in the Challenge the expertise and overall organisational support of UKRO and its affiliations to the WRO and Global Road Safety Programme is recognised as essential for delivering a more specialist area of develop such as the establishment of rescue challenge and delivering more advanced technical and trauma training.
Since 2007 Operation Florian has been actively working in partnership with local municipal fire and rescue services and with the national agencies to re-develop and re-equipped the fire service. When Operation Florian first began the project in 2007 the fire service in Macedonia was in state of drastic decline with a poorly equipped and functioning capacity and serious under funding issues. A further key area of major concern for project team members was since the country had become independent in 1991 a lack of attention and focus on the fire service resulted in an aging demographic of firefighters with no recruitment strategy and relatively no training amongst any of the firefighters. This was especially relevant to the area of road traffic collision rescue where in many areas of the country there was no equipment or response capacity to RTC’s and if a local fire service had some rescue equipment it was in poor condition and the technical knowledge was low.
To address these issues over the past 6 years Operation Florian has donated 17 fire equipped fire appliances and over 25 sets of hydraulic rescue equipment. Within this timeframe Operation Florian has trained over 350 firefighters in a range of key skills to begin to re-establish a level of technical skills and knowledge to ensure safe working and operational practices. A further commitment by Operation Florian has been to ensure that a momentum of development can become self sustaining within the service. The project team set about accomplishing two key objectives that would contribute to this happening. Firstly, after developing a skill base of technical knowledge of rescue skills Operation Florian, then working in partnership with Severn Park Fire and Rescue Service and Avon Fire and Rescue Service, delivered an RTC instructor training programme. This resulted in an outcome of 8 fully qualified instructors from 5 key municipalities within the country; Kriva Palanka, Strumica, Tetovo , Stip and Veles. The second element was to encourage the development of a rescue challenge within Macedonia. To achieve this, however, first it was essential that the 8 instructors, who made up the national team actually experienced a UK Challenge to develop an understanding of what could be possible and achievable within their own country.
Furthermore, since the project commenced funding has always been a challenge. Despite the obvious benefits to any community for a well equipped and functioning fire and rescue service still internationally it continues to remain a constant challenge to secure project funding. This is why over 80% of the project revenue has been raised by funding raising and why sponsorship from companies such as Vimpex remains to be vital to provide continuity in the project.
As the project now moves into the next phase the partnership between each stakeholder will take on a more important role as we hope to organise a Challenge in Macedonia for 2014. This by no means provides a range of different challenges and risks but the obvious benefits if successful could be incalculable. In Oct this year, 2 representatives from UKRO will be connecting up with the Operation Florian project team in Macedonia to carry out an assessment and lead on the preparations of establishing the country’s first ever Challenge. This is both an exciting opportunity for both organisations and reflects how they can utilise the strengths of each organisation for greater mutual benefit to the Macedonian fire service.
As a testament to the hard efforts over the past years and recently by Operation Florian instructors and from the Macedonian team it was a real credit to them that their position was in 25th place. This reflects the passion and commitment displayed by everyone involved to assist in a real positive change within the country. The project team are extremely grateful to Mick Cant, Ian Holt, Ian Meville, Gary Higson, Arif Ahmed and the GMFRS extrication team and Operation Florian members who got involved during the Macedonians short stay in the UK and getting them prepared for the competition. Also, Operation Florian is equally grateful to Cameron Black and everyone in UKRO both for their kind hospitality and support of the team but more importantly their openness for partnership working. A final thank you must be recognised to Martin, James and the team at Vimpex who made this possible with their financial support.
It is always difficult in these circumstances to value the absolute benefits in the long term. However, for those involved in overseas projects actually measuring and evaluating success is a challenge but people will always be able to provide anyone anecdotal stories of success of or within a project. But when this ultimately means saving lives involved in a road traffic collision what more can you say.
Steve Jordan is a Watch Manager in Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and has been a member of Operation Florian for 11 years and is the current Project Manager for Operation Florian in Macedonia.