This summer Kent Fire and Rescue Service's community volunteer scheme celebrates its first anniversary and, thanks to an ever growing number of enthusiastic and dedicated recruits, is going from strength-to-strength.
Today the scheme has 26 volunteers who, unpaid and of their own free will, contribute their time, energy and skills to undertake a range of directed community safety activities on behalf of KFRS. They are of all ages and from all walks of life - an element that Volunteer Coordinator Karen Garret says makes their ability to contribute to the organisation and its preventative work even greater.
Karen said: "KFRS volunteers don't carry out any operational fire safety duties but instead assist in engaging with the community to promote safety awareness and the services which the organisation offers. Their tasks include attending community safety events and promoting KFRS's home fire safety service and road safety messages. Volunteers support both the KFRS dedicated community safety team as well as stations throughout Kent and Medway."
She added: "I am constantly amazed by the amount of time our volunteers are willing to give up, as well as their limitless enthusiasm and interest in what the organisation does. I have had fantastic feedback from KFRS staff and now that the volunteers are experienced I am being requested to provide volunteers to support station-led events so that they can continue to engage with the public if the operational staff are called away."
Driving Instructor Lorraine Pinder, 47, from Margate, joined the scheme in September 2011 and is now an extremely established member of the team. Her experience as a volunteer with the Red Cross has stood her in good stead to volunteer for KFRS and she has undertaken a wide range of community service and station-led events, including road traffic collision initiatives. She has also helped the Youth Engagement Team to support young people accessing Kent's BTec award scheme.
Lorraine said: "My victim support role in the Red Cross has meant that I have seen how devastating fire can be, so the opportunity to volunteer with KFRS's community safety team made perfect sense. Also, my role as a driving instructor means that I have a wide experience of young people and to play a part in KFRS's RTC prevention programme is very important to me. I enjoy the wide range of activities I get to take part in, as well as seeing a very tangible and positive change in the attitude of the youngsters we work with. Being a volunteer means we get the get a chance to develop skills and gain experiences we wouldn't normally have access to."
Eighteen-year-old Jade Goodwin from Canterbury was one of the KFRS's youngest volunteers when she started in June 2011. Today she one of KFRS's most prolific volunteers and attends events almost every weekend. She has also recently become a mentor to new members of the team and leads volunteer-led events. She joined the scheme to get a better insight into the fire service and, for her, the personal benefits have been enormous. She said: "I was bullied at school so my self esteem was at an all time low before I joined KFRS. Today though, my confidence has soared - so much so that I can deliver talks to other volunteers - something I could never have done before."
Steve Griffiths, Kent Fire and Rescue Service's Director of Service Delivery: "The KFRS volunteer network is not seen as an add-on to the essential work of the service, but as an integral part of its efforts to achieve its goal of saving lives and reducing risk. Both the government, voluntary and community sectors recognise the value of volunteering, and for Kent an effective volunteer network enables us to engage with and access all the skills and experience in our communities, which consequently will lead to a better understanding and improved levels of service. Volunteers are a rich source of knowledge, skills and abilities and are enormously respected and appreciated throughout the organisation."