Dave Barker-Read shares his volunteering experience

“I need an RTCI at short notice” was the message I saw on Facebook in April 2014, about a year after I became an Operation Florian member. After a quick review of my CV, I was accepted to travel to Chisinau and then on to Floresti to deliver RTC training to the local firefighters of Moldova.

The following year I was accepted again to return to Moldova for further training in RTC extrication, trauma care and appliance familiarisation. Having proved my worth, I have been fortunate to represent Operation Florian in Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on several occasions, most recently in June 2023 where I ran breathing apparatus courses.

Bulawayo June 2023

After a short period of settling in after arriving in Bulawayo, our team travelled to Famona Fire Station in downtown Bulawayo to view the facilities and teaching environment. Operation Florian teams usually consist of instructors who have been before and new members who are on their first projects abroad. The trip to the fire station was a chance to see the teaching environment before any students arrived, and was particularly useful for the newer team members. 

The first working day always starts with a welcome to students and a formal introduction by team members. The students were then split into various classes focussing on BA, Incident Command, Community Fire Safety and RTC procedures, for two weeks of intensive training.

During the two weeks there is also the opportunity to meet Local Councillors, UK Diplomats and Civic Dignitaries. This networking is vital in spreading the message of Operation Florian and representing the UK fire and rescue service in a wider context. The hosts are always receptive to the charity’s generosity, appreciating that the instructors are volunteers and give up their time to help.

Normally the hosts are generous enough to organise some entertainment during the weekend breaks. This could be a trip to a wildlife sanctuary, site of particular interest or local pleasure spot in which to relax before returning for the second week. 

The two weeks pass quickly; hard but rewarding work in the daytime and relaxing in the accommodation at night. Soon the final day arrives and with it either a ‘pass out parade’ or formal key handing over ceremony with local dignitaries before the inevitable celebrations- singing, chanting and laughing bringing the project to a close.

Volunteering in Bulawayo 2023
Bulawayo firefighters breathing apparatus course 2023

A two-way learning process

I have always found Operation Florian to be a two-way learning process. While we deliver UK fire and rescue service procedures, we are also able to learn from local firefighters about their own specific risks, such as bee swarms and rescues from open wells.

It is always a humbling experience to be able to help others, particularly in a chosen career which has had so many highlights. All team members take the attitude we go to Zimbabwe not to instruct, tell or educate but to mentor, guide and advise students in their careers.

There is so much you gain from volunteering with Operation Florian, and I highly recommend it to any fire and rescue personnel who are thinking about getting involved.