Operating as part of the County Council, Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, has one of the most varied and successful volunteer schemes in the country.
The scheme was launched in January 2008 and there are now nearly 150 volunteers across all the districts in Hertfordshire who dedicate at least six hours of their time each month to help make the county safer.
Roy Wilsher, Director of Community Protection and Chief Fire Officer, said: "Volunteers provide a valuable role in the county and complement the work of our dedicated crews of firefighters. Their work is vital in helping Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service keep communities safe by delivering important fire safety initiatives which help to reduce the number of preventable deaths and injuries.
"Our volunteers are a fully uniformed arm of the service and an invaluable asset, they help us reach the heart of our communities and are especially good at engaging with those we have sometimes struggled to reach in the past. We have a diverse volunteer team that is reflective of the communities we serve. I believe that involving local people helps improve the services we are able to deliver to our residents and we are already seeing some of the benefits."
Volunteers are an important part of helping to identify arson risks and safety issues which need addressing, such as abandoned vehicles, broken fences and fly-tipping. Some of the ways volunteers help to do this include:
* Arson patrols − volunteers use service vehicles to patrol known hotspot areas and report any issues back to District Commanders to take action. The visibility of the volunteers also provides reassurance to communities who have previously suffered from arson attacks and antisocial behaviour. Last year more than 100 hours of arson patrols were carried out by volunteers helping to reduce the overall arson figure in Hertfordshire.
* Community horse patrols - is another initiative designed to reduce arson. The scheme is a partnership between the Fire Service, St Albans District Council and competent riders from registered stables who own specially trained horses. Checks are carried out in areas not easily accessible by vehicles and all riders and horses are provided with kits when on duty.
* Bicycle patrols - mountain bikes are used to carry out patrols in areas such as parks, nature trails and more rural areas where arson can be problematic. The scheme provides opportunities to engage with the community allowing volunteers to deliver fire safety messages to young people at the same time.
Volunteers are instrumental in delivering informative, educational and practical help to their communities. Some of the ways volunteers help do this is by delivering initiatives such as:
* Home fire safety visits - volunteers play a big part in getting people to sign up for a free home safety check, which is carried out by trained volunteers to identify risks in the home and help remove them. This could involve clearing away blocked exits or fitting a smoke alarm.
* Under one roof - is a new initiative set up by volunteers in the east of the county. Training sessions are provided to professionals who work with vulnerable people to help them identify common fire risks and signpost them to the Fire Service for advice and support.
* County Civil Contingency Resilience - volunteers are now formally part of the County Civil Contingency plans and help to support the setting up and staffing of reception centres in the event of a major civil emergency and to assist with community evacuation where necessary. There are currently 60 volunteers trained in this role which is being developed to include the provision of transport services for health care professionals to ensure they reach vulnerable people in extreme weather.
* Community advocates - by working in partnership with Hertfordshire Equality Council, the Fire Service has set up a county advocacy group to support its equalities and diversity work. Volunteer representatives from diverse communities provide advice about lifestyles, cultural issues and religious aspects which may have an impact on how the service engages with particular communities. This forum is also used to consult on policy and planning work, equality impact assessments and positive action initiatives.
* Trading Standards - in addition to the fire safety volunteers there is a growing team dedicated to work with Hertfordshire Trading Standards. They offer consumer advice to local communities and help to identify and prevent rogue traders and the sale of counterfeit or dangerous goods. These volunteers also provide fire safety advice when visiting businesses and help identify fire risks.
Richard Thake, Cabinet Member for Environment and Community Safety, said: "All of our volunteers are fully trained in fire safety awareness and first aid and some receive specialist training for their roles in resilience or trading standards. Our volunteers come from all sectors of the community with the youngest recruit being 18 years and the most senior 75 years. Some are retired, some are students and others are professional workers and parents. They do a brilliant job in supporting Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and we are extremely grateful for all their hard work and dedication."
The volunteer scheme not only helps to make communities across Hertfordshire safer but also benefits those who take part, here are some of the volunteers own personal experiences.
Jacqueline Gething, Fire Service Volunteer, said: "I joined the volunteer scheme in October 2011 and it has been one of the best decisions I've made. I saw it as an exciting challenge and a wonderful opportunity to work with the local community and contribute to the incredible work of the Fire Service.
"I work full time at Hertford Regional College so I mostly volunteer at the weekends and find the scheme very flexible. I mainly help at community events alongside other members of the volunteer team and most recently had the amazing opportunity to spend two days at Lee Valley Olympic venue. I welcomed visitors, offered fire safety advice and provided a reassuring presence and point of contact for the public. It was one of the highlights of the year for me."
Darren Woollard, Fire Service Volunteer, said: "I heard about the Fire Service Volunteer Scheme from someone who was already taking part and thought it sounded really interesting. At first I was a little nervous but that didn't last long as the fire crews were so welcoming and supportive.
"Since my initial training I've taken part in various exercises including one where I supported fire crews in a simulated large factory fire. I also attend monthly meetings where I learn about upcoming fire safety events, further training exercises and any new initiatives. I certainly have a sense of pride when wearing the uniform and it's always nice when you're able to answer questions from the public."
The recent passing out ceremony held in July 2012 for new Fire Service Volunteers
Posted August 20th, 2012 at 1233 by Andrew. Comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org