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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - West: Friday February 9, 2007
Fire fighters
African firefighters, Avon hoses in The Gambia

Gambia rescue

Call the Fire Brigade in the tiny west African nation of The Gambia, and you won't believe your eyes.

The red fire engine that screams up your road is badged "Avon Fire Brigade".

The uniforms on the fit young firefighters and the helmets on their heads are also from Avon.

In fact, the entire country's firefighting kit started life on the streets of the West Country.

Inside Out West's cameras have followed the Avon fire trucks 3,000 miles, tracking an extraordinary story of life saving common sense.

From West Country to West Africa

"Look at that, first turn of the key, started first time. Makes you proud - worth coming just to see that."

Fire fighters
Fire fighters kitted out in Avon Fire and Rescue kit

Jerry O'Brien is chuffed to bits.

He should be - he's the Deputy Chief Fire Officer at Avon Fire Brigade, and they're his trucks.

Because of European emissions regulations, the trucks have to be taken off the road after 10 years in Bristol, but there's still plenty of life left in them.

"This is Serekunda Fire Station", says Jerry, standing outside a low building in a township near the capital.

"Population 350,000. Until five years ago, they had no fire station. People just died in fires.

"Now they have three trucks. It's life saving stuff."

So how did the Avon trucks end up in West Africa?

Helping on holiday

It started on a holiday.

Sixteen years ago David Hutchings was travelling in The Gambia and, being a fireman, he got friendly with the local fire boys.

THE GAMBIA


The Gambia is situated on the West African coast. One and a half million people live there.

The Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries. It has few natural resources and is very dependent on peanut exports.

Since 1991 Avon Fire and Rescue Service has been donating redundant fire appliances, fire and rescue equipment and firefighters' clothing to The Gambia.

Over 40 fire and rescue vehicles, breathing apparatus, accident rescue equipment, rope rescue sets and other vehicles have been donated to the country's fire brigade.

As a result of the partnership, The Gambian Government has provided eight new fire stations so each area of the country now has fire and rescue cover from Banjul (the capital of The Gambia) to Basse further north.

Source: BBC News and Avon Fire Brigade

"One night they called me, there was a family trapped in a smashed car, and they had nothing to cut them out with," he recalls.

He remembers feeling powerless to help, and frustrated that back home his brigade threw away kit that would save lives here.

David was, as it happens, the Chief Fire Officer.

When he got home, he started asking questions.

From then, the official partnership was born.

Now the Gambian Brigade has 1,000 firefighters, 30 trucks, breathing kit, and cuts families out of cars with no trouble.

"It's apolitical, just getting on with the job 24-seven, and it makes you proud to be from Bristol."

Jerry couldn't be more right.

To see why, watch the film on BBC Inside Out West on Friday February 9, 2007.

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