British Red Cross help for Leeds and West Yorkshire blaze victims

British Red Cross service manager John Naylor with volunteer Morag Irvin and the support vehicle.
British Red Cross service manager John Naylor with volunteer Morag Irvin and the support vehicle.
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When fire ravages someone’s home in West Yorkshire, the arrival of firefighters is followed by a vehicle which looks like a cross between a camper van and an ambulance.

It is the Fire and Emergency Support Service (Fess) truck operated by the Red Cross.

And as a stunned family looks on at their wrecked home, a Red Cross volunteer steps in.

The vehicle contains clothing, because some victims end up in the streets in their nightclothes. There’s also food, toys for children, even toothbrushes and toothpaste – in fact all the essentials lost in the fire.

One night recently, a kitchen fire badly damaged the home of a young family in Farnley in west Leeds – a mum, dad and four-year-old boy. The house was smoke-logged and uninhabitable.

Watch Commander Ben Bush led two crews from Stanningley fire station who dealt with the blaze. He triggered the system which alerts the Red Cross with a call to his fire control centre at Birkenshaw. The Fess truck arrived soon after.

“It takes a big load off me because they cover stuff like accommodation,” he said. “They have essentials like clothing, toiletries, food, toys for the children.”

Fess is a staffed by volunteers on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“They get dragged out of their beds to do this,” said Watch Commander Bush. “The one who turned up this time was a retired firefighter.”

The volunteer was John Naylor, accompanied by Morag Irvin.

“We gave the family hygiene packs with toothbrushes, soap, flannels, to just to get them through the first stage afterwards,” said John, who is 56 and was a firefighter in Leeds up to 2007. “One of the volunteers had knitted some teddy bears for the unit so we gave the little boy one of those and he was happy. We also provided clothing.”

Watch Commander Bush said: “We have had families stood on the pavement with their house burned down. That’s where the Red Cross emergency support comes in. They can’t do enough for people. They always go that extra mile.”

Fess needs more volunteers. Email: jcoulthurst@redcross.org.uk or ring 0113 2015252.

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