Miles of memories – by Luke Burton, Jersey Fire & Rescue and convoy volunteer driver
Just over two weeks ago I departed Jersey, privileged to be part of a 6-man team from Jersey Fire and Rescue Service, heading to join a convoy totalling 23 appliances from 12 different UK Fire and Rescue Services, destined for Ukraine.
Jersey Fire and Rescue Service (JFRS) kindly donated 2 appliances that had recently been replaced, both of which were fully stocked with operational equipment. Also in our lockers were a large number of ‘trauma teddies’, donated by the children of the JFRS firefighters and friends, to take with us for those Ukrainian children who have lost so much. The stipulation that the appliances had to be fully stocked in order to be immediately operational highlights the desperate circumstances our Ukrainian brothers and sisters are facing during these challenging times.
During our initial brief, the devastating statistics collected by the NFCC were relayed to us. As of late March, the Ukrainian FRS has lost 123 Fire stations and 250 fire appliances, with 32 firefighters killed and a number captured. We had travelled to Kent via Portsmouth, having taken the overnight Ferry from Jersey, and the briefs served as a powerful reminder as to the importance of the journey. It was awe-inspiring to see all these different charities and services, pulling together for the cause. We had input from all the relevant organisations, including FIRE AID, the Fire Industry Association, UK Home Office, National Fire Chiefs Council, UK International Search and Rescue, and also Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport to name but a few. The amount of work that had gone into the operation was clear to see and it is great to have such brilliant backing from so many bodies.
The next morning, we rolled out of Kent and began our journey with the short trip to Dover, boarding the Ferry to Calais. Convoy driving was a new discipline to learn, having to stay close enough to the person in front that the convoy doesn’t become separated, but not so close that you have insufficient thinking time to anticipate breaking or turning and wind-up parking in the pump locker of the appliance ahead.
We crossed the border into Belgium and spent what felt like an age passing around Antwerp, before continuing into Holland where we had our meeting point with our German FRS friends, who then escorted us to our first overnight stop point. The first overnight was a big station with a multitude of FRS appliances that they took great pride in showing us around, despite the fact that midnight had long since passed! That is the ‘fire service way’ and the theme continued on our journey, nothing was ever a problem, we were well fed and watered and always had a bed for the night. Whenever we left it was always with a promise that should we ever be passing again, that we had to pop in to say hello!
The next day we continued our travels across Germany without disruptions, the mechanics who were accompanying the convoy had used masking tape on the rear blue lights on each appliance to take the ‘zap’ out for the driver following, as we continued on everyone’s longest ever blue-light response drive! Every fuel stop was greeted with warm smiles and kindness, support for the convoy. We bedded down on the second night having been welcomed by another German FRS service, eager to ensure we had all we needed.
Day three we crossed into Poland and the weather started getting cooler, as if to match the convoy’s mood, as we started to see more evidence of the ongoing war. We had seen various centres in Germany that were assisting with things such as collecting aid and helping refugees with documentation, but now we were starting to see other convoys on the road, various military vehicles and armoured ambulances would pass us and the gravity of the circumstances would be more and more evident as we got closer to Ukraine. That night was spent with the Polish FRS at another immaculately kept station, chatting with our foreign colleagues about our journey so far and what lays ahead for the appliances.
Then it was on to our final leg, pushing East to the designated rendezvous point. With our Polish colleagues escorting the convoy taking it to 25 vehicles, it really was a brilliant sight, covering around a kilometre of road when on the move. At the final destination we handed over the keys to the appliances, we shook hands and we parted ways, acutely aware that the real journey for these machines had only just begun. I am lucky to have shared this journey with some amazing people, but the heroes of all this are those we’ve given the appliances to, the Ukrainian FRS. Their daily operations must be horrific and unimaginable. Hopefully the appliances will assist them in making their tasks achievable in these troubled times.
My thoughts are with the Ukrainian FRS, their families, and the people of Ukraine. Slava Ukraini
By Luke Burton, Jersey Fire & Rescue and convoy volunteer driver.