Salvation Army volunteers cleaned and polished their Suffolk Emergency Response Unit yesterday (1 March) after a busy start to the year supporting 660 blue light emergency services personnel to date.
The county-wide response team have supported the emergency services, including the fire service and police - at five incidents since the start of the New Year, racking up a total of 196 man-hours while serving 965 hot drinks and preparing 95 loaves of bread for sandwiches.
Recent call outs have included a fire at Kelsale Hall near Saxmundham in February and the East Coast flooding alerts in January when two teams were dispatched to Lowestoft and Halesworth.
Mike Baker (73) is a member of Stowmarket Salvation Army and The Salvation Army’s Emergency Response Co-ordinator for Suffolk. Mike was joined by two other volunteers for the big clean yesterday. He said: “It’s been a busy year so far – five call outs is higher than normal. Last year we had 17 calls for the whole year.
“I do like to keep the unit clean and tidy so that when we go to an incident it looks the part – it’s all about giving a good impression as well as giving a good service to the emergency teams. We’re pretty rural here in Suffolk and unfortunately some of the drivers don’t avoid the puddles!”
The current response team is made up of a dozen volunteers who are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Mike added: “The on-duty volunteer coordinator carries a pager. The emergency services control room will page to say they need us – it all depends on the number of people attending the incident and the duration they are needed.
“When we get the call, and it is often in the middle of the night, someone will go to Tesco and do a trolley dash to get the food while someone else gets the van ready. Then we meet up and within 40 minutes of the call we can be on the road to the incident. When we arrive we ask where they want us and then it’s all systems go. We turn the boilers on and make the food while we’re waiting for them to heat up.
“I formed the group back in 1978 following flooding in Wisbech. There was a call for volunteers to help they came back saying what a great experience it was. After that we wanted to do something a bit more formal to support. The Salvation Army has a long history of serving the armed forces and emergency services so as a member of The Salvation Army I was then able to set up the response team.
“Over the years we’ve seen it all – crashed aircraft, flooding, search parties, police incidents, fires, road accidents. We go there to serve the community, to bring cheer to the emergency workers, and to comfort those who have suffered loss. It’s God’s work with your sleeves rolled up – that’s how we look at it.”
The Salvation Army’s current emergency response vehicle was commissioned in January 2016 and is jointly funded by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, Suffolk Constabulary and The Salvation Army.