Hats off to the lady! An interview with Miriam Cristina

June 30, 2014 in Member Interviews

Hear, hear! It is with great satisfaction and pride that I get to interview a fellow female member of our team: Miriam Cristina, néeCutajar. To give you a quick profile,  when you meet Miriam for the first time, you’d never guess she’s 26 years old – she barely looks 20 – and probably you would neither picture her as a PSD teacher at a boys’ college (with all the challenges that adolescent boy-schools bring with them), and a successful one at that! But aye, that is what she does outside EFRU. She’s married to David – who’s also an active EFRU member – and lives in Żabbar. She’s as graceful as a butterfly, quiet and composed, petite and very, very shy. You’d think she’s almost fragile, until … RIIIIIIING! … goes the phone and there’s EFRU involved at the other end of the line. All the above traits notwithstanding, Miriam heaves, lifts, pushes and tosses heavy equipment like any other male member and handles casualties just as perfectly. It is probably because she puts a great deal of dedication into all of it that she does what she does so well.

Miriam’s commitment to EFRU started three years ago, in 2011, so she has had time to see EFRU evolve and to acquire quite some experience in the spectrum of work that the EFRU does. For this reason, I ask Miriam which aspect of training she prefers. Is it first aid, fire fighting, rope rescue …?

‘I would put Rescue as a preference due to the dynamic nature of the discipline itself. Every rescue exercise poses different scenarios and thus requires certain creativity, beside the application of specialised techniques. Also, greater teamwork is involved in such exercises than, say, first aid training which is more of an individualistic discipline.’

Miriam’s contribution towards the EFRU, however, goes beyond the weekly training. In April 2014 she started to form part of the EFRU Executive Committee where she first served as an aide to the executive secretary. Later this year, she took over the role as the EFRU’s secretary, a position that she still assumes to date. When I ask her to describe her role within the organisation she smiles and stops to think, then pours out a long list of duties that she has: ‘helping out with the organisation of events, planning of duties, collecting members’ availabilities for duties/events, compiling rosters, distributing information to members via email, tackling issues taken over from the previous secretary’… are only a few. Furthermore, apart from the tasks she has to fulfill as a secretary, Miriam is also entrusted with networking tasks, through which the EFRU continues to widen its relationship and communication with foreign volunteering rescue teams.

Thus follows the inevitable question: ‘how many hours a week to you dedicate to the EFRU?’

‘I can assure you it is a lot. I cannot give you a weekly lump sum, but I can tell you I have to do something every day in order to be able to finish off pending tasks within the deadline. I spend an average of 2 hours a day (after work) working on EFRU matters, excluding the Saturday training sessions.’

As an active member myself, I know how demanding all of this can be and I admit I would probably never manage to do what Miriam does in the little free time that she has. I honestly think there are not many around who canpride themselves of giving such a healthy contribution to any cause.

Towards the end of my interview, I ask Miriam to tell me what she likes most about EFRU and whether there is anything she’d rather do to change from how it currently is.

‘I like the diversity in the organisation. All the members come from different backgrounds, have different qualities, and are all good at something different.If I had to change anything, I’d increase team-building exercises, not that we don’t’ do any, but I believe we need to meet up with each other more, outside EFRU, so that we could get to know all the members better, especially the newer ones. More social events would be a good idea for this.’

Fair point, I’d say.

My last question to my colleague concerns the EFRU’s future. Where does Miriam see the EFRU going in the next few years? Miriam states that the EURO SAR (Click HERE) has helped the EFRU grow in more ways than one. She foresees a greater contribution by the EFRU in missions abroad, not only as a means of training, but also in terms of real experiences. Eventually, she admits, the EFRU’s value might be greater on an international level, than it currently is on a national level, and this is because of the greater opportunities and challenges that lie beyond our shores.

Good for us, to have leading members like Miriam Cristina who don’t flee from challenges and who, instead, strive harder to reach higher. It is with members like these that the EFRU can, and will succeed. Yet one great thing that intrigues me about Miriam is that, despite her enthusiasm and ambition, Miriam never forgets to be humble and never does anything without first ensuring she’s confident in it. As a fellow female member I cannot but express my congratulations and best wishes to one of the greatest assets the EFRU has.

Need I say more? No, my hat is definitely off to you, woman!

 Iona Muscat

EFRU Volunteer

Head in the clouds, Hands to the rescue! An interview with Joseph Bonnici

March 28, 2014 in Member Interviews

In a single stretch of virtual breath, via email, Joseph complains about a few graying hairs, yet he smiles while admitting that he’s a couple of weeks shy of his 32nd birthday, and as many months past his 3rd anniversary as an EFRU member. The truth is that it’s easy to imagine Joe throwing you his timid smile while whispering some witty comment about anything you might be discussing with him – usually leaving you to your spat-out coffee, or laughing your head off like a loon, as he walks away with a straight face.

Joe is one of the most active members of the Unit and has recently been appointed committee member. Anyone who gets familiar with the EFRU can note that Joe’s role in the organisation is quite significant, yet when I ask him whether he was ever involved with other rescue organizations prior to EFRU he replies:

‘No, the EFRU is the first rescue organisation I have been in; I was never even part of scouts. Before joining the EFRU I was somewhat intrigued by fire fighting and rope rescue but it was only when I came across the EFRU’s website that I took the plunge.’

And a mighty plunge, that was! The way I see it, three years ago Joe made a deliberate and significant upgrade to his lifestyle, which many out there would never have made at his age.

Like every other member of the EFRU, however, Joe’s contribution to the Unit is entirely voluntary. This is why the following question to my comrade is: ‘can you tell me something about your full-time career?’

‘Oh! You mean the time I spend with my head in the clouds?’

Yes. Joe is also a pilot. But even that is not exactly what he does for a living!

‘I’m lucky to have started a career in aviation – my childhood dream. Only recently I started working on the next challenge in my career. I work in the Operations Control Centre of an international, private aviation company. In a nutshell, I’m part of a team of people who ensure that pilots have all the necessary preparations for their flights to run smoothly. And then, because I really can’t get enough of planes, I occasionally fly small aircraft and enjoy the Maltese Islands from a few thousand feet above!’

Of course, this is a rather simplified description, as every flight demands its own set of preparations which are way too complex to delve into, here. Joe mercifully spares us the details. As for the love of planes, however, I can solemnly vouch for this myself, as I have flown with him a few times and, apart from revealing that he is an excellent pilot, these flights led me to confirm where his heart lies.

While keeping his heart to flying, Joe likes to go hands-on in anything related to the EFRU. I must point out that he is not just any other EFRU member. As the newest member of the committee, he is currently in charge of Networking and EU-funds procurement, aside from being a regular contributor to the PR section. He also assists in Basic Rescue Training for the newer members alongside another colleague of his. That already sounds like a lot, and I haven’t yet mentioned his constant commitment to the EFRU’s external first aid, rescue and fire-fighting duties, the other work he does for the University of Malta’s radio station, and most importantly, his personal life as a married family man. How on Earth does he manage, and how does his family respond or rather, adapt, to his insanely busy lifestyle?

‘I think it’s a matter of compromise. There are other things I’d probably be doing instead, if I wasn’t part of the EFRU. However, I try to choose to do what I like most and where I feel I can give a positive contribution. Then there are certain EFRU members that continuously inspire and motivate me to do my best for the organisation. I’m pleased to say that the EFRU thrives on the collective effort of each one of its members. Of course, family life is certainly affected by the commitment that the EFRU entails. In the end it’s about trying to find a balance (although this is easier said than done!). Thankfully, my wife does understand that the EFRU is important for me.’

This is where I cannot but take the opportunity to thank the families of each and every member of the EFRU for the constant support that they offer and, for bearing with the long hours of absence from home which the Unit demands of its dedicated members. Joe is one such member and, in being so, Joe spares more than enough time dealing with a spectrum of issues related to the EFRU.

If Joe were to be given the opportunity to change anything about the Emergency Fire and Rescue Unit, what would he change?

The first reaction to this question would be to answer something along the lines of “Well I’d make the EFRU rich so that we may grow in terms of equipment and people and therefore, improve capabilities”. However, I’d rather think this question refers to the EFRU’s core values, which I don’t want to change. After all these values have shaped the EFRU into what it has become today – my fellow members’ relentless enthusiasm tells me I’m right in this regard.’

Touché, my friend; no one could have put it better. I guess I need not encourage you to continue your valuable work within the Unit, but maybe I can, on behalf of everyone else, thank you for your constant contribution in making the EFRU a reliable rescue team and a proud family of 40. May future recruits and prospective members follow in your footsteps!

Iona Muscat
EFRU Rescuer

Interview: Josef Mizzi

December 31, 2013 in Member Interviews

NAME: Josef Mizzi
AGE: 24
OCCUPATION: Aircraft Engine Inspector
POSITION WITHIN THE EFRU: Quarter Master and Team Leader

 “One black coffee please, and a glass of milk for my friend…” I say jokingly, as I sit in a corner of the EFRU kitchen table, next to Josef. Two facts about Josef – he does not drink coffee, and he looks much younger than he actually is, hence the joke about the glass of milk. Ironically though, he has had enough coffee to last him a lifetime, when his face was dabbed with coffee-based make up to simulate burns during an aircraft accident response exercise.

Josef has been a dedicated member in the EFRU since 2007. So what sparked his interest?

I always wanted to be a volunteer… I used to be a member in a youth organisation in fact. While pursuing my studies at MCAST, I observed a rescue demonstration and that was it… I was hooked!

At MCAST Josef studied aircraft maintenance. This led him to start a career with a company servicing aircraft and helicopter engines, a job that requires much attention to detail, precision and a certain degree of organisation… apart from technical knowledge of course. Despite his youth, Josef has already been assigned with the training and supervision of trainee technicians. This is, of course, testimony to the trust that people confide in him – something that the EFRU founders had no problems in doing either. In fact, Josef is a committee member and has been assigned the role of Quartermaster, apart from assuming the role of a team leader in case the EFRU are called out to assist the Civil Protection Department. So what does a Quartermaster do exactly?

As a Quartermaster, my role is to take care of the unit’s equipment – keep an inventory, arrange for the maintenance of equipment and advise on the need for new equipment. Should there be a call, or even when training, I prepare the equipment to be used and keep a list of what was used, so that once ready we make sure no equipment gets lost or misplaced.

Keeping on the topic of exercise and training – Josef is the resident casualty. No, not because he is careless or accident prone. He often volunteers to take this role during training because it makes a real difference to the rescuers when they can get actual feedback of how they are performing, from the point of view of someone tied up on a stretcher suspended several meters above ground. Josef is confident that the instructors are making extra sure that everything is done safely.

As Josef has been a member of the EFRU almost since the unit was founded, my next question is about how he has seen it evolve and also about any memorable moment as a volunteer with the EFRU. One of the most noticeable changes was surely the number of active members. When Josef joined, there were only a handful of members. Today the number of EFRU active members exceeds 40. This has led the organisation’s administration to evolve, such that it now has a number of sub committees taking care of different aspects of the unit. The capabilities have also increased and improved, also thanks to the investment in new equipment and vehicles. Yet, despite the increase in numbers, the group is still tightly knit together, feeling much like a family. New members find it easy to integrate and it feels hard to miss out on an event.

Something I will never forget is when, together with another two EFRU members, other NGOs and the CPD, I went to Libya on a catamaran to help evacuate people from Sfax (Tunisia) to Benghazi and Misurata in Libya. The vehicle deck was all laid out with stretchers… many were wounded… it was not easy! However there was excellent teamwork.

Considering all the commitment involved in the EFRU, what keeps Josef (and other volunteers) going? Does it ever feel overwhelming? He admits that at times it may be difficult keeping up with everything, both due to work commitments and also when fatigue starts to set in. However, setting priorities and having good time management is key to finding the right balance. Being dedicated to a cause is also a great motivator which keeps volunteers going, not to mention the sense of belonging to a great group of people. Apart from this, being part of the EFRU may be beneficial even on the workplace and life in general. Leadership, team work, relating well with others, communication and working under pressure are all life skills that employers will find very enticing.

New members are always welcome here. We have people with a variety of backgrounds, and age groups vary greatly as well. But that’s what makes us strong… working as a team, we have built a strong organisation that is continuously progressing and achieving more!

Joseph Bonnici
EFRU Rescuer

Interview with Nick Zammit

September 26, 2013 in Member Interviews

NAME – Nick Zammit

POSITION WITHIN E.F.R.U. – Finance Manager

CURRENT JOB – Finance and Administration Manager

HOBBIES – Music (plays the guitar); Reading; Travelling

Way back in 2006, Nick Zammit, together with four others, helped found the E.F.R.U.  Nick’s participation in such an ambitious plan was due to his great determination to help others in a variety of ways, including leading other like-minded people towards a common goal of helping those who need it.  The founding five did not simply want to train in rescue, but also wanted to assist and give First Aid to those in need. Their aim was to be as self-sufficient as possible in the event of a disaster.  For example, instead of entering Firework Factories’ accidents to rescue people who had already been located by other personnel, they wanted to be able to identify the location of casualties and victims themselves through the use of trained rescue dogs. This goal was one that Nick felt capable of achieving, together with the other E.F.R.U. Founders.

“Looking back, from the amount of new members and the agenda the E.F.R.U. has, as well as from the amount of tasks it is involved in, it shows that the E.F.R.U. is growing fast and increasing its success with the passing of time.”

As part of the E.F.R.U Administrative Committee, Nick is responsible for managing everything that has to do with Finance, not only the unit’s accounts, but also the reports that need to be submitted to the Maltese Voluntary Group Council on a year-to-year basis. This job requires a lot of dedication and precious time in order to publish such reports in a precise manner and to ensure all relevant details are included.

In order to keep up with his full-time job, family requirements and the E.F.R.U.-related work mentioned, Nick has learned to prioritise. He told me that:

“I make sure that, after my full-time job, I spend enough quality time with my wife, my daughter and my son. After that, I find time to keep up with the E.F.R.U.-related work.

Nick’s greatest adventure with E.F.R.U. was the ‘Cycling for Puttinu’ event held in Sicily and organised by the E.F.R.U as part of the Community Assistance Programme (CAP).  The event was open to both E.F.R.U members and other cycling enthusiasts, with the main aim of collecting funds for Puttinu Cares.

His desire to participate in such activities emerged while he was still a child. Nick joined Sliema Scouts when he was 13 and spent 4 years participating in Scouts activities and adventures. After such a background, the move into a rescue-orientated environment was a logical step for him.

The most difficult feat for Nick had to be conquering his fear of heights.  Abseiling was a difficult challenge that he had to face, but once he knew it was safe and began to trust his colleagues, he ended up enjoying abseils and height-related rescues.  In fact, his life’s motto is; “Only as high as I reach can I grow. Only as far as I seek can I go. Only as deep as I look can I see. Only as much as I dream can I be.”

Although rescue is something he enjoys greatly, at the moment, fatherhood takes priority and precedence over anything else.  Nick’s greatest joy is to see both his children growing and to be there to witness each milestone they achieve.

“I wish to be there for them in every single moment, in every success and in every failure of their lifes.”

His ambition for life is to travel the world. He simply loves travelling, learning about new cultures and experimenting with traditional foods (chocolate-covered grasshoppers anyone?). For him, travelling means spending time with the family – what he really lives for!

Nick recommends E.F.R.U. to anyone interested in pursuing voluntary work in this field. “Once someone enters E.F.R.U., it’s like they’ve acquired a new family. Aside from this, the E.F.R.U. teaches many new skills that may come in handy in their daily lives.”

His advice to current E.F.R.U. Members:

“Be strong and unite, for each other member is your friend and family. Trust each other, because when at risk, your life is in the hands of your fellow members.  Be respectful and cherish that friendship.”