Fire safety in Shropshire has been given a major boost after a number of fact finding missions abroad by firefighters and brigade staff, said the leader of Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority.
A total of 37 firefighters, control room operators, admin staff and fire authority members visited fire brigades in five European countries over the past year to swap operation techniques.
Financed through the European Commission's Lifelong Learning Programme, staff participated in professional "intercultural dialogue" exchanges with visits to Finland, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Denmark.
Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority chairman Stuart West (left) with Hungarian firefighters.
Fire crews looked at the protection of German listed buildings in Regensburg, how regional control centres were run in Finland, training and development techniques in Spain, risk management in Denmark and firefighting and mines rescue in Hungary â€“ where they donated an old Shropshire fire truck and equipment.
Fire crews have just started training to use Positive Pressure Ventilation (PPV) to blow smoke out of a burning building after a previous visit to Denmark. Crews re-visited Danish fire stations to work jointly with firefighters using the potentially lifesaving equipment which is being introduced into Shropshire.
Andrew Kelcey, Head of Resources at Shrewsbury fire HQ, said that Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service learned much about heritage protection from the visit to Regensburg which has 1,500 listed buildings at risk of fire in the city centre.
Firefighters operate the ladder drill in Regensburg.
German fire crews had "advanced" pre-planning, more specialist fire trucks with lighter ladders to deal with confined spaces and manually operated fire hoses. Sprinklers were in most of the heritage buildings, he told staff at a meeting held at the Whitehouse Hotel in Telford.
There was less of a "target culture" in countries abroad with fire crews using common sense and communities offering tremendous public support. A youth firefighting scheme where young people are encouraged to train and put out fires is one of the German and Danish schemes being recommended for review in Shropshire.
Councillor Jane Greenway, a member of Shropshire and Wrekin Fire Authority who visited Denmark with two colleagues, said: "I think we offer a more rounded service in Shropshire."
Shropshire firefighters in breathing apparatus training in Denmark.
Councillor Stuart West, authority chairman, said that the Leonardo Staff Exchange Programme had benefitted everyone. Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is the largest UK fire service user of the EU financed educational scheme and has worked closely with other fire and police services to encourage wider take up of the initiative.
"These trips have been very rewarding for firefighters and staff who have all learned something useful that we may be able to introduce into our Shropshire firefighting service. Fire authority members now have a better understanding of the role of firefighters and how they operate and firefighters also understand more about what we do," he said.
Danish firefighters (forefront) during a training session with Shropshire colleagues as part of a return trip to Shropshire.
In 2008 the Service, together with its Danish fire service partner 'Falck,' received the EC's Gold Award for quality and excellence in an international project. The service has also been shortlisted for the Government's Industry and Development Agency Award for partnership working.