Scots firefighters help Serbian counterparts save 4,500 lives

A documentary looking at the remarkable relationship between a group of Scots firefighters and their counterparts in Serbia will reveal how their efforts have saved thousands of lives.

Old Serb engines are replaced with newer models driven from Scotland.

The BBC Alba programme Stornoway to Serbia: Putting Out The Fire will tell the story of the latest trip organised by the Scottish Emergency Rescue Association (Sera) in partnership with Blythswood Care.

The group will be seen donating its 50th vehicle since it began working in the region ten years ago.

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There is a massive shortage of fire engines and firefighting equipment in Eastern Europe, and most of the group have made similar trips to Moldova and Romania – so the Serbia trip is also a reunion for many good friends.

Volunteer Ian Murray is based in Stornoway

The documentary follows a group of Stornoway-based firefighters, who joined the team to take five retired fire engines, and one ambulance, to Serbia to be given a new lease of life.

Once at their destination, the team spend a week training both firemen and volunteers so they can make the best use of the repurposed vehicles.

Volunteer Iain Murray, a part-time firefighter who is based in Stornoway, said in the remotest villages in Serbia the firefighters were having to use hammers and chisels to free people trapped in vehicles.

He said: “There’s so many poor souls out there – although in the main towns there was a fire engine but out in the sticks there was nothing at all.

Volunteer Ian Murray is based in Stornoway

“At first the people were a bit cagey as to what we were doing but once we get on the ground and meet the guys they’re just firefighters like ourselves except that they’ve experienced a lot of conflict.

“They’re really keen to learn, I would explain it – if you ended up in a road traffic collision here the fire-brigade would pull up with all their cutting gear, they’ve got all the equipment on the truck, it’s all singing, all dancing.

“Outwith the villages that we’ve been concentrating on, the firefighters don’t even have any transport.

“They’ll turn up at an RTC and they might have hammers and chisels to open the doors and get people out.”

To date an estimated 4,500 lives have been saved thanks to Scottish firefighters making the journey to countries across the Balkans over the last decade.

Serbian firefighter Nikola Sasic said in the programme: “The Serbian Fire Service is really neglected. These fire trucks that we get as part of the project will have a huge impact, stopping fires and saving lives in Serbia.

“With this donation and the training so many more lives will be saved.

“Regardless of being over 20 years old, they’ll replace vehicles which are over 40 years old and have almost no equipment other than hoses,” he added.

At the end of the week, the keys to the vehicles were handed over in an official ceremony, with certificates for the trainees and awards for some of the Scottish volunteers who had completed multiple trips.

Director Daibhidh Martin, of MacTV, travelled with the team and filmed their experiences.

He said: “It was an extraordinary opportunity to see up close the incredible difference Scottish volunteers make in Serbia.”

Before embarking on the Serbia trip the team spent nine months sourcing the retired engines, which had come to the end of their useful lives in Scotland and would otherwise generally have been scrapped.

Then another eight months were spent getting them up to scratch before the multi-skilled volunteers from all over Scotland – a mix of retired, serving and retained firefighters, mechanics, IT specialists and a police officer, took them on their long journey to the Balkans.

BBC Alba, Stornoway to Serbia: Putting Out The Fire, tomorrow, 9pm