Suffolk emergency services recognise 40 years of support from Salvation Army volunteers

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Representatives from Suffolk’s emergency services, local councillors and senior leaders from The Salvation Army gathered on Friday 1 June, the start of Volunteers’ Week, to mark 40 years of Salvation Army volunteers supporting frontline emergency workers.

A celebration event took place at The Salvation Army church and community centre on Violet Hill Road in Stowmarket. Following speeches of appreciation, refreshments were served from The Salvation Army’s emergency response vehicle. The menu included favourites of Suffolk’s emergency services, including cheese and pickle sandwiches and hot dogs.

Major Derek Jones, regional leader of The Salvation Army, said: “As a Christian church and charity, we seek to alleviate distress wherever it is found.Today we celebrate Salvation Army volunteers who, throughout the past 40 years, have supported police men and women, fire personnel and ambulance crews with food, drinks and a listening ear at hundreds of incidents across Suffolk – some of which can be particularly harrowing and fraught, even for experienced blue light teams.

“We remain committed to the special partnership between The Salvation Army and Suffolk’s emergency services and will continue to support them as they respond to people in need and care for communities across the county.”

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.

A team of 15 Salvation Army volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The need for Salvation Army support depends on the scale and duration of the response. In 2017, volunteers responded to 18 calls requesting Salvation Army support, serving more than 1,600 frontline workers 2,185 hot and cold drinks and turning 257 loaves of bread into sandwiches.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The Constabulary really appreciates the support of Salvation Army volunteers and officers given to the police during emergencies. They add a different and extremely worthwhile dimension to working with all emergency services in, what can often be, very difficult situations.

“The practical support of hot drinks and sandwiches, combined with the compassionate support makes a huge impact. In summary their contribution is invaluable.”

Ian Bowell, Area Commander for Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service, said: “The Salvation Army is a much valued partner, helping Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service resolve long complex incidents.  They are always there, ready to help.  The refreshments and support they supply to our operational and non-operational fire personnel are very welcome, timely and much appreciated by all.”

Paul Goodchild, Acting Senior Locality Manager for West Suffolk at East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “The dedicated volunteers at The Salvation Army often provide much-needed welfare support for our frontline crews when they need it most at the scenes of major or protracted incidents, and most recently, during one of the harshest winters the NHS has ever seen.

“Making sure our hard-working frontline staff have a warm drink and a snack can really make a huge difference to morale at times like these so we thank The Salvation Army for all they do for us and other blue-light colleagues. Long may our partnership continue.”

Throughout the last 40 years, the team has been behind the scenes of a range of incidents across Suffolk including street and house flooding, residential and commercial fires, ship fires, police search parties, aircraft crashes, traffic accidents and snow blocked roads as well as supporting emergency services incident exercises and the London 2012 Olympic marathons.

The Salvation Army’s Suffolk Emergency Response Coordinator, Mike Baker, explained the process for responding to calls from the emergency services: “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 the local supermarket 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.

“I formed the group back in 1978 following flooding in Wisbech – there was a call for volunteers to help. 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 church member of The Salvation Army I was then able to set up the response team.”

“We go 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.”