Named after the patron saint of firefighters, Operation Florian aims to provide altruistic, humanitarian services to oversees emergency services who do not benefit from the support, reserves, training and experience of other countries.

This summer, members of both Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS), along with other fire and rescues services and a water rescue equipment provider, headed out to Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, to provide equipment and training for water rescues.

Tommy Richardson has been a fire fighter with TWFRS for nearly 14 years and his base is also the Water Rescue station for all of the Tyne and Wear area:

“In 2013 I was involved in an incident that saw two teenage girls lose their lives to the water. I was determined that something good should come out of such a tragedy and have since made water safety a real passion of mine.”

Tommy continues:

“I’m a member of the National Fire Chiefs Councils Water Safety Practitioners Group as well as the RLSS UK Northumberland and Durham Branch, so when I heard about the work of Operation Florian I was keen to get involved.”

“As a first-timer with the project, the main feeling that struck me was how enthusiastic and welcoming everyone there was. Everyone was ready to get stuck in and really receptive to learning new techniques and ideas but between my Geordie accent and the language barrier, we’d have all been lost without our translator!”

This year is the final year of a five-year project in Moldova where funding has been secured to deliver appliances, equipment and training to their fire and emergency services, with an extension of the project into the neighbouring region of Transnistria. The number of drownings in this area is high, with the River Dniester running through the region, as well as a number of large lakes, so Operation Florian’s work plays a vital role in keeping people safe.

The five days were full on; filled with everything from classroom-based sessions on flood dangers and casualty rescues, through to getting familiar with the different equipment and live practice sessions of rescues, designed to cover as many eventualities as possible.

“The week flew by, we did so much with them! It was a real pleasure working alongside people who were so eager to learn, helping them move through from being complete novices to competent and confident service personnel,” says Tommy.

The week culminated a very well earned passing out ceremony which involved all the firefighters undertaking a Water Rescue demonstration to Senior Moldovan and Transnistrian Fire Service personnel as well as to members of the Moldovan British Embassy.

In closing the week, all firefighters received their very well deserved Diploma Certificate but perhaps more of a surprise was that Tommy and the other training instructors were also given a diploma certificate:

“It was a surprise and a real honour to receive the certificate alongside the trainees and for me, capped an amazing and rewarding experience, one I’d be keen to repeat if I could.” 

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