A senior Shropshire fire officer has been recognised with a national award for helping to equip and train some of the poorest firefighters in Europe.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer Steve Worrall was praised for his “inspirational” leadership in organising a series of county visits to the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania over the last several years.
Off duty firefighters and staff from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service have transported a vast range of essential equipment – including eleven fire engines – to remote fire brigades, some of which were still using pre-Second World War equipment.
Car washes, cake stalls, promise auctions and raffles raised enough money to give Christmas presents to children in five orphanages in Bulgaria and Romania and every resident in an elderly person’s home in Transylvania - the first time many had received presents for more than a decade.
They also raised money to put TV’s into every bedroom at an old people’s home in Romania, pave an outdoor area at the home, and fit smoke alarms into homes.
Steve, a fire officer for almost 30 years, was prompted to act after witnessing the poor state of many of the rural and city brigades in Eastern Europe.
Today (Wednesday) he was the first recipient of the newly launched “Beyond the Call of Duty” award from Fire Magazine.
Tim Ottridge, MD of Lion Apparel Systems, said his company wanted to donate 55 fire kit uniforms for their next trip to Romania.
“We want to recognise your commitment. You really have gone above and beyond the call of duty. It is truly an extraordinary achievement.”
The overseas aid initiative was initially sponsored through European Commission Grant Aid but in recent years has been funded through a range of sponsorship and charity events run throughout Shropshire by fire and rescue staff.
They were inundated with equipment after sending out an appeal to UK brigades for redundant fire appliances, fire kit, rescue equipment and smoke alarms. The teams Steve has led donated equipment, replaced pre-war Russian fire engines and swapped their overalls for proper fire kit and provided specialist firefighting and rescue training.
In remote villages in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania they trained local volunteer firefighters in modern road traffic collision extrication techniques and provided education in the use of smoke alarms. In Poland and Bulgaria they replaced old ‘cold-war’ fire engines and trained firefighters in how to use modern ladders and firefighting equipment.
“They had never seen ladders so high. They now have the tallest ladders in Romania,” said Steve, who praised everyone for raising thousands of pounds towards the projects.
A total of four fire engines were delivered by Shropshire fire and rescue staff to Transylvania last October in support of the Prince of Wales Romanian based charity – The Mihai Eminescu Trust.
“Each trip was unique with a mixed array of staff from across the service using their free time and holidays to prepare the vehicles and take part in the journey,” said Steve.
Shrewsbury Town Football Club donated football shirts for children and villagers in Bulgaria and Romania. Shropshire businesses sponsored the cost of transporting the fire engines.
“These journeys have also been experiences of a lifetime for many of our staff, forming teams and friendships that make our service stronger,” said Chief Fire Officer Paul Raymond.
“Steve's charity work goes beyond the call of duty. He has made a real difference.”
Steve with the award surrounded by some of the staff from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service who went on the foreign fire aid trips