Looking Back

September 27, 2012 in General

It all began… in 2006 when a group of 5 dedicated people with a solid background in rescue (most of whom still form part of the organisation to date) decided to form the Emergency Fire & Rescue Unit or, as it is more commonly known EFRU. The first months were a continuous uphill struggle for the founder members but the sun started to shine when they were contacted by a dancing team called ‘She 2’s’ to assist them with an adventure program they were planning. This was the first time most people heard about EFRU but success was instant. Queries from people who wanted to join the team began flowing in and thereon, the EFRU family started growing.

The EFRU’s mission is to provide emergency rescue services as a backup to the Civil Protection Department in case of national catastrophes such as earthquakes, major disasters, airplane crashes, floods, and similar occurrences. EFRU is entirely run by volunteers, of various ages, through their dedication and desire to promote life and assistance to others.

The Unit continuously trains and specialises in various disciplines such as High Angle Rescue, Rope Rescue, Cliff Rescue, Fire Fighting, Land and Sea Rescue (including Rescue Diving), Urban Search and Rescue (including Urban Search & Rescue Canine – K9), Swift Water Rescue (a recent addition) and First Aid.

The organisation is also equipped to offer its services to commercial and other charitable organisations who may, from time to time, request its assistance, be it on land or sea. EFRU also assists other entities in their fundraising activities through the ‘Community Assistance Program’ (C.A.P.). This has been created for the benefit of charitable and youth organisations and is committed to be of assistance whenever needed. This positive attitude is reflected in the unit’s motto ‘Taking Pride in Helping Others’.

Aid to charitable and youth organisations includes First Aid coverage, Land and Sea Rescue backup during fundraising events, Rescue Demonstrations, as well as Informative/Educational Talks. Information sessions have been organised for the benefit of a number of youth organisations, local councils, people in need, and other groups of people in Malta and Italy from all walks of  life. Such sessions are aimed at informing the general public about subjects of basic utility such as Fire Awareness, Health and Safety, First Aid Awareness and information on Diving and Rescue Diving.

Finally, EFRU has also organised events, on its own initiative, to financially assist charitable organizations. Such beneficiaries included Puttinu Cares (Children Cancer Support Group), of which EFRU is the official rescue team; Malta Hospice Movement (Cancer Support Group); and Inspire Malta (Disability Support Services). For these organisations, EFRU has organised cycling marathons in Sicily for the general public, collecting funds through sponsorships and donations from various entities. Each of these events involved extensive organisation mainly for media coverage and awareness towards the beneficiary.

Our enemies… The main ‘Enemy’ icon for EFRU is the struggle to make ends meet financially. As an NGO, the Emergency Fire & Rescue Unit is not funded in any way by the government or otherwise. The only income the unit has is through the donations it receives in return to the services it offers as first aid and fire back up to commercial and governmental entities or during the major mass gathering events held in the Maltese Islands or sporting activities like triathlons. This is possible thanks to the dedication of the forty volunteers EFRU presently has. Furthermore, a team within the organisation is constantly working to give EFRU the exposure it needs with the hope of attracting a number of sponsors to help ease the burden the unit faces to reach its objectives. In order for the EFRU to offer its services and to function as it should, such donations are of utmost importance and consequently, to date, all related expenses are being forked out by the volunteers themselves.

For years, the Emergency Fire & Rescue Unit did not have a meeting place or storage facilities for its equipment. This was the main issue for five consecutive years and management took all the necessary measures to try and persuade the government to step in and assist. It was not until 2011 that, thanks to the Civil Protection Department, EFRU was granted ‘the temporary use’ of premises in Paola which will act as the unit’s headquarters and training school. The new struggle faced by the management team is, now that the perfect premises are available to house the equipment and volunteers alike, to try and secure the place for peace of mind.

In the past six years we have worked hard to build a strong team, capable of assisting the Civil Protection Department in many different ways. It is our aim to keep providing this solid shoulder as well as further the assistance EFRU offers abroad. For this reason, in May 2011, the EFRU has signed a twinning protocol with an Italian volunteer rescue group – Edelweiss Soccorsi Speciali. The purpose of this agreement is to guarantee mutual support in case of national emergencies as well as to provide the volunteers of both rescue teams with the possibility of working on foreign soil while setting standards in certain rescue techniques. Such protocol has widened the horizons for our Unit and will also give us the opportunity of being called out overseas should the need arise. The twinning agreement provided our Unit with the possibility of extending our discipline range. Since 2010, EFRU has taken part in annual ‘Swift Water Rescue’ training with Edelweiss Soccorsi Speciali, under the direction of CPD – Malta. This is a very interesting field which is surprisingly also important in the local scenario, on account of the flooding that takes place during heavy rains.

Our greatest achievements are… Difficult to mention, but the ones that we are most proud of must be the rescue of four capsized canoeists in force six seas during the 2006 Puttinu Annual Triathlon (held in December), the rescue of the sole survivor from the St. Helena Fire Works Factory Explosion back in June 2007; and our involvement in the ‘Libya Exodus’, when thousands fled their homeland or workplaces during the thick of war in what was described as ‘one of the largest migration crises in modern history’.

Hard work is also being put in by all our volunteers to be able to find willing sponsors to contribute towards the maintenance and upkeep of one of the two Fire Trucks EFRU has to its disposition, and to be able to purchase two second-hand high-roofed mess vans capable of transporting a team of eight rescuers complete with their kits.

Keith Borg
Manager PR & Funding