Synergising European Volunteer Rescue Teams – Malta – Feb 2016

March 9, 2016 in U.S.A.R.

Who would have thought? February 2015 – a month of many sleepless nights for some members of the EFRU committee, frantically working to get a project funded under the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union…February 2016, one year later, and the EFRU was hosting rescuers from eight volunteer teams, coming from six European countries during a five-day training activity in Malta. This training activity, held between the 5th and the 9th February, was part of that very same project, which is expected to run until May 2017.

Synergising European Volunteer Rescue Teams – This title may have been conceived one day at three in the morning (the author may have been suffering from lack of sleep at the time), however it spells out perfectly the mission set for this project. We all know the importance of working together, the strength of a team… whenever a big disaster or accident happens, people come together to help each other and team work is ever so important. However we all tend to take this for granted, as if team work will automatically happen. Well not unless all the team members pull the rope in the same direction, and at the same time. This is why the project’s aim is to create synergy between rescue teams. They need to harmonise the way they work, agree on a common training programme and practice working together, so that in the case of a real emergency these rescuers can work quickly and efficiently without wasting time sorting out their working methods on the spot.

The training activity held in Malta brought together Rescue Teams that already form part of EVOLSAR – the of European Association of Civil Protection Volunteer Teams, as well as three other teams that are interested in joining in the near future. These teams are Edelweiss (Italy), Serve On (UK), EPS (Portugal), CCPVC (Cyprus), EP.OM.E.A (Greece), ÖPVE (Hungary), Bombeiros Voluntários de Peniche (Portugal) and Protezione Civile Comunale Fermo (Italy).

Over four days, the teams participated in a number of rescue simulations designed to challenge the teams in a number of rescue disciplines. In order to make things more “interesting”, the teams were composed of rescuers of different nationalities, throwing in the language factor. At the end of the day, one will not normally be able to choose who to work with during a real emergency. It was interesting to see the progress from one day to another, as well as the creativity in communicating together with minimal conversation. Each exercise also gave the opportunity for discussion during the debriefing sessions.

While the rescue simulations may seem to many as a fun activity, they in fact involve a good amount of specialised techniques and proper knowledge of use of equipment. There is always an inherent danger that could lead to very serious consequences if taken lightly. Another important element of this training activity was proper risk assessment and management throughout. Mr. Dave Dunford, a volunteer from one of the teams involved, presented an excellent talk about this topic, and went on to tie it with good a mention of good leadership skills, something that is crucial for a rescue team.

Joe Bonnici