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FIRE AID’s members Operation Florian and WFS deliver fire prevention training in Lebanon

Wed 20, Feb, 2019

In January 2019 our FIRE AID members Women in the Fire Service (WFS) and Operation Florian brought together a team from Fire and Rescue Services across the country to deliver fire prevention training in Lebanon.  The team was made up of 5 women from different roles bringing years of operational experience and skills in the training and development of firefighters as well as extensive knowledge and expertise in fire safety, fire behaviour, child psychology and education and diversity and inclusion.  Steve Jordan from Greater Manchester FRS accompanied the team having led on the first Operation Florian trip in 2017.

At the beginning of the week the team met with Save the Children to learn from the shelter team how the fire safety recommendations left by the 2017 Operational Florian team were being implemented. It was clear that Save the Children’s education packages have developed greatly and these were being shared with other NGO’s and cascaded out to the camps. There are around 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon with over half being children and many live in informal tented settlements.  It was encouraging to learn that while multiple families are living together in these buildings Save the Children deliver fire safety checks and provide smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

The team visited 6 different camps all with their own challenges.  The largest had over 200 tents, each tent providing shelter for several families.  Save the Children or other agencies provide some basic protection such as plastic sheeting and the families gather wood and other building materials from where they can to build their homes.  This last winter presented further challenges for the families as there has been unusually heavy rainfall which caused devastating flooding in the camps of up to a meter soaking beds, blankets, wood and clothing.

The team spent time in the camps talking to the refugees with the aid of an interpreter and it was clear to see how desperate their situation was.  Many of those we spoke to had good knowledge of what to do in a fire and how to treat minor burns which was comforting, however their main concern was with the electrics in the settlements.  Lebanon’s electrical infrastructure is fragile and many camps only have power for 4 – 6 hours a day.  Illegal connections made to national power supplies lead to dangerous electrical cables trailing all over the tents with exposed wires, overloaded sockets and misuse of electrical equipment creating high risk of fires and electrocution.

Many of the families we met had been living in these tents for years.  Considering the crisis started 8 years ago, it is difficult to imagine how they must feel after the traumas they have had to endure in leaving their own country with only what they could carry to find safety and shelter in a strange environment.  The team were touched by their friendly welcomes, happy to show their homes and give the team an opportunity to speak with them.

Increasing population within the camps and limited opportunities for camp expansion means some families are building a second floor to their tents creating huge risks in terms of health and safety and in particular fire safety. Managing such conditions is a huge challenge for the NGO’s and one which the team were able to discuss at a presentation of their findings with the In-Country Director of Save the Children at the end of the weeks research.

While 4 of the team were out in the field working with Save the Children, the others visited fire stations in Beirut and Zahle at the invitation of the Head of Training for the Lebanese Civil Defence.  Currently nearly all firefighters in Lebanon are volunteers and deliver a service to their communities with minimal resources.  For example; in one of the stations where they had 25 firefighters there were only 7 sets of fire kit to share.  With a great deal of hard work Operation Florian managed to secure and deliver a container of decommissioned kit including; old boots, helmets, tunics, leggings and RTC kit which will be distributed to some of the 200 fire stations across Lebanon providing firefighters with much needed PPE.

The team were able to spend some time with firefighters learning about their incidents and how they manage with the limited equipment and resources they have, they were able to share knowledge and experience with the crews and promote women in operational roles.

Some of the team were also invited to the British Embassy to speak about the gender project with Save the Children in the refugee camps and the importance of the relationship with the Lebanese Civil Defence.  All parties hoping that there will be further projects in the future.

Relationships with Save the Children, the Lebanese Civil Defence and hopefully the British Embassy will continue to grow and with this in mind we are hoping that two female firefighters from one of the stations visited will be able to attend the WFS training and development weekend in the summer to further their knowledge and experience and continue to develop our relationships with international fire services.