Dates: 30/08/2010 - 10/09/2010
Location: Polski Trambesh, Bulgaria And Pavlikeni, Svishtov
project leaderSteve Snape
Polski Trambesh Trip Report – September 2010
The trip to the Veliko Tarnovo region of Bulgaria was many months in planning and came about after Operation Florian received a letter from the Station Commander of one of the fire stations in the region requesting help from the charity. With the help of a number of individuals an appliance was secured and various items of equipment promised. Fundraising got under way in earnest and the Mayor of Polski Trambesh promised to provide the money for the diesel required for the drive through Europe.
After a number of months enough money had been raised for the trip to be formally planned and the donation of a free ferry crossing by P&O ferries meant that the route could also be plotted. The team was put together and it consisted of Steve Snape, Ian Hainsworth and Mick Frankland, all Lancashire fire personnel, as well as Svetlin Mihailov, the station commander of Polski Trambesh and the person who had made the original request for help. The rationale behind including Svetlin in the team was that it would give him an understanding of the work involved in planning and actioning this type of trip. It was also considered that his ability to speak the language at the Bulgarian border may come in handy as well as the contacts he had within Romania.
The date of the trip was eventually set with the team setting off on the 31st of August and returning to the UK on the 11th of September. About 3 weeks before this date a full day was spent cleaning the appliance, testing equipment and ironing out any problems that surfaced. During this day 30 BA sets were serviced, all the hydraulic cutting equipment was started and tested and a loose plan put together regarding what was going to be loaded onto the appliance and where.
Late on Thursday night of the 26th of August Svetlin arrived in the UK (his first trip outside of the old soviet bloc) and was picked up from the airport. He spent the next day at a fire station where he was constantly in awe of the amount of equipment that could be made available to UK crews. On Saturday the 28th of August the whole team met personally for the first time and the day was spent loading the equipment and PPE onto the appliance. A number of other individuals assisted on the day as well as the duty crew at Leyland fire station and their help was much appreciated. Finally the fire engine was ready to go and the route through Europe was in place and meant Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania would be visited before entering into Bulgaria. Flights home, accommodation, meals and a training plan were also in place.
On the morning of Tuesday the 31st of August the team was received at Lancashire’s headquarters by CFO Peter Holland and who was originally responsible for the donation of the fire appliance to Operation Florian as well as sanctioning the donation of a considerable amount of equipment that was to be taken on the trip. Plaques and mementoes of the occasion were swapped by Svetlin and the Chief and we left with him wishing us good luck on the journey ahead. We then loaded a few last minute items onto the appliance, stored the food and drink required for the trip, had a few photographs taken and then everything was ready.
The team left Leyland fire station at approximately 13:00 hrs and set a leisurely pace on the M61/M60/M62 and headed for Hull were the ferry was to be boarded. They arrived at the docks in plenty of time and got their first result of the trip when receiving their tickets at the dock gates – P&O had kindly thrown in evening meals and breakfast for all as well as providing 2 twin cabins instead of the expecting 4 person berth – luxury. The voyage to Zeebrugge was uneventful and the food onboard was of the highest quality and this meant that the team drove onto Belgian soil at approximately 8:30 local time well rested and watered and ready for the trip ahead.
The road trip went fairly well in the main with only a couple of wrong turns being made which were quickly corrected. A decision had been made to drive continuously and only to stop to refuel. This plan appeared to be the right one when as dawn was approaching on Thursday the 2nd of September they were deep into Hungarian territory and were anticipating arriving at the final destination before nightfall that same day. Unfortunately they hadn’t reckoned on Romanian roads and road signs. As they approached the Hungarian/Romanian border just after Mako the road conditions deteriorated – a sign of things to come. Nevertheless they eventually arrived at the border crossing that had been identified by Svetlins Romanian colleague as being little used and a lot closer to Timisoara than the main crossing at Nagylak. Unfortunately this crossing has a rule of only allowing vehicles under 7.5 tonnes to cross and as the vehicles documents showed it to be well in excess of this entry was denied. This meant backtracking to Nagylak but at least they were not held up at the crossing and at approximately 9:30 they entered Romania. WeThe team spent 30 minutes having breakfast and having a clean up (the toilets at this crossing were immaculate) before once again setting off.
As the route had now slightly changed they had to head for Arad before turning south towards Timisoara and straight away they were stuck in traffic until clearing the limits of the city. The roads were now best described as challenging and therefore only make slow process could be made as they continued south until reaching Drobeta-Turnu-Severin close to the Serbian border and turning broadly east. They had gone over the Carpathian Mountains before dropping down into Orsova and following a very picturesque damned river. The road here, however, was even worse than usual with road works at numerous points throughout the route. All of this meant that hopes of reaching the border before sunset had been well and truly dashed and as darkness fell they were just entering Craiova. Road signs here were at best confusing and they wasted time trying to navigate their way out of the city in the right direction. With a little luck and good judgment they were back on track and eventually reached the town of Alexandria at sometime between 11 pm and midnight.
At this point they were only about 30km as the crow flies from the border crossing but in keeping with Romania no direct road existed and they arrived at the ‘friendship bridge’ in the early hours of the morning. The last 20 miles were down a road that was no better than a dirt track so they were very pleased to be entering Bulgaria. Only 80km to go but still time for Svetlin to wipe out one of the wing mirrors on a passing truck. They eventually arrived at their final destination at about 3:00 a.m. tired and dirty but a quick shower and a couple of beers and they were ready for a great sleep.
Next day the team went down to the fire station and met the duty crew who helped to empty the machine and to stack the equipment and PPE in various piles. On Saturday the duty crew were asked to show us their BA procedure so that they could decide how in-depth to pitch the training that was due to be carried out. The appliance had also developed a fault in the air dryer which meant that the air brake reservoir wouldn’t fill up. The team spent a few hours stripping the component down and appeared to be successful. Had a great day off on the Sunday discovering the delights of Veliko Tarnovo – a beautiful city.
On Monday the appliance was driven down to a local stream to test the pump and although they got a prime they couldn’t get the pump to deliver water using the hard suction. The pump worked well from the tank and from a pressure fed supply however, and the high pressure hose reels definitely impressed the locals. The air brake problem, however, reappeared but a local mechanic turned up and he suggested a few potential problems with solutions to these. The machine was loaded with fire kit, hydraulic gear and 10 BA sets ready for the next day’s training.
Set off at 8:00 a.m. from Polski Trambesh to the town of Pavliekeni about 30 km to the West. The days training, which was to be mirrored twice more, consisted of BA training in the morning, RTC procedures in the early afternoon followed by basic first aid to finish the day. The day was very hot and a few problems were encountered getting the Bulgarian firefighters to don fire kit. About 16 firefighters completed the days training and overall they were very keen to learn and very grateful that Operation Florian was going to donate vital equipment for them to use. They were particularly keen to receive cutting equipment and PPE as they had none of the former and very little of the latter. All the firefighters had to buy their own boots for use at work and this meant that standards were varying and some of them had nothing more than old trainers.
On Wednesday morning the firefighters at Polski Trambesh were shown how to operate the fire appliance as well as how to carry out the standard maintenance that was required. Interest was very high and there was no shortage of questions from the firefighters who had never experienced high pressure pumps before. Whilst carrying out the training a call was received to an RTC about 8km away. The Florian team were given permission to attend the incident on the Leyland appliance. On arrival there were a number of agencies in attendance including a well stocked mini appliance that was used by the department of civil emergencies. Their funding was from a different stream than the fire service but even they had been told that they would not receive any more finance and that what they had was all they would get. The equipment that was carried, however, was obviously not been adequately trained with as the hydraulic equipment could not be correctly used by the operators. Unfortunately the driver of one of the vehicles was deceased but a couple of children and another driver walked away reasonably unscathed.
Some basic training in the use of the ladders that we had taken was carried out and they were particularly impressed with the roof ladder. The training finished with a multi ladder drill utilizing the fire appliances hose reels which were carried out with much enthusiasm and effort. There was just time for a demonstration of hook ladders by the locals – One of the team couldn’t help himself and had to have a go.
Late afternoon on the Wednesday the keys to the Fire appliance were officially handed over Mayor of the town. This day was the annual towns’ celebration day and so a considerable crowd was gathered. A couple of speeches were made before all retired to a local restaurant to celebrate the towns change from village to town. During the meal the team were joined by the senior fire officer in the Veliko Tarnovo region as well as the regional director of all emergency services for the region. All the Bulgarian officials repeatedly expressed their thanks to operation Florian for providing an appliance and equipment to the region. They also requested that the donations continue particularly with PPE as this is fairly sparse throughout Bulgaria.
On Thursday morning the team travelled to Shvishtov, a town which is situated on the most southern point of the river Danube in Europe. It was a slightly cooler day which made it a little easier to carry out the training. On the day there were 18 firefighters who all participated in the 3 training sessions. The BA training was particularly interesting and the local firefighters had a number of questions and were keen to learn the method of searching used by UK firefighters. They already had hydraulic cutting equipment which had been donated last year and so the training was aimed at embedding good safety practices when using the equipment. They also seemed to enjoy the First Aid training and again had a number of questions about a subject that they have had little or no previous experience. Before leaving the station the firefighters insisted on having a group photograph taken outside the stations church which they had built themselves.
Early next morning the 45KM trip back to Polski Trambesh was made were the day was spent giving the firefighters at this station some basic training. The fact that this was Svetlins station was probably the reason that the firefighters here were a little better trained than their counterparts in the other stations we had visited. The group of 14 were extremely motivated and enthusiastically joined in with all aspects of the training. For the BA exercise a deserted factory was used which created a realistic scenario and which helped to give the teams a challenging area to search. All the teams carried out the exercise to a high standard and were willing to practice the new search method that we had earlier shown them. In the afternoon the RTC training was again focused on safety techniques as well as brushing up on good methods of creating space. As with the firefighters at Shvishtov the crews had benefitted from receiving hydraulic equipment the year before and had obviously practiced with the equipment. The first aid was again well received and the question that was repeatedly asked was would Operation Florian be going back to give the station more training. At the end of the day the firefighters were presented with certificates and later everyone went to a local restaurant where every firefighter from the station came along to show their thanks for the appliance and training that they had received.
At the end of the week over 50 firefighters had been given training and vital equipment and PPE had been given out to people who really needed them, Although hard work at times the satisfaction in knowing that fellow firefighters were in a better position to do their job made it all worthwhile. A big thank you to everyone who participated in any way to making this trip a success. A special thanks to the 3 interpreters Gala, Daniel and Krissy who never faltered throughout the long days and who ensured that all information was passed on properly.
|Location||Subject||number of students|
|Pavliekeni||Basic RTC procedures||16|
|Pavliekeni||Basic emergency first aid||16|
|Polski Trambesh||Ladders & pump introduction||14|
|Svishtov||Basic RTC procedures||18|
|Svishtov||Basic emergency first aid||18|
|Polski Trambesh||BA familiarisation||14|
|Polski Trambesh||Basic RTC procedures||14|
|Polski Trambesh||Basic emergency first aid||14|
On returning to Polski Trambesh in October I found that the appliance had already been re-sprayed in the colours of the Bulgarian Fire Service and was waiting for all the paperwork to be completed. All the staff at the fire station were very proud of their new machine and equipment and were showing it off at every opportunity.
Report written by Steve Snape
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service employee and Operation Florian member.
Operation Florian are extremely grateful to all supporters of this project. Without your assistance these projects would not be possible. You have helped to save lives and improve community safety: