Andy stood outside his fire damaged house with the two Red Cross volunteers who helped him start the recovery process following a house fire

Watching your home burn can be heart-breaking. As your belongings go up in flames, it can feel like your memories and life are too.  

“You don’t know how you’ll feel until that happens and I don’t want to feel like that again,” said Andy Goodwin.

Earlier on this year, he watched the fire service tackle a blazing fire which engulfed his home in Linden, Gloucester. He and his family had made it out safely thanks to a working smoke alarm.

But standing out in the cold on the street and in their nightclothes, Andy couldn’t focus on what to do next: “I was all at sixes and sevens. I was all over the place.”

Fortunately two British Red Cross volunteers were called upon by the fire service – and they had everything Andy needed at that very moment to cope with this crisis.

‘I saw an awful orange colour’

Andy had woken at about 3.30am to what he thought must be a faulty smoke alarm. He casually walked down the stairs to investigate but soon realised the urgency of the situation.

“It was only when I got to the bottom step that I could feel the heat – I could actually taste it in my mouth and I could see the front room glowing an awful orange colour.”

He raced to wake his partner and children. As they reached the front door, a glass partition window between the living room and the hall exploded, leaving Andy and his daughter Ellie with singed hair.

“We were very lucky and thankful to be out,” Andy said.

The fire service was on the scene quickly and a firefighter asked Andy if he wanted help from the Red Cross.

“I didn’t understand what he meant at first,” Andy said.

But the firefighter explained that the Red Cross offer a service which helps people through the early stages of their recovery following a house fire.

Andy agreed.

A safe haven

Red Cross emergency response volunteers Dave Franklin and Jan Foreman shortly arrived at the scene in their specially-adapted vehicle.

The vehicle is equipped with food and drink, spare clothes and toys, a quiet seating area, and washing facilities. They also have practical information on support services and insurance companies.

In short, it provides a much-needed safe haven to start to make sense of a crisis situation.

“To have somebody with you to provide some structure so you can start to make sense of chaos I think is really, really useful,” Jan said.

Upon arrival, they identified Andy and his family, invited them make use of the facilities in the vehicle, and began to help them think about their next steps.

“Over a period of about three or four hours, we managed to get the family some spare clothing, lots of teas and coffees, and got them in touch with their insurance company,”  Dave said.

Andy and his family were truly grateful for the support.

“Dave and Jan were absolutely brilliant. They steered me in completely the right direction. I couldn’t even operate my mobile phone.”

Andy stands inside his fire damaged house. Red Cross volunteers helped him to cope in the immediate aftermath of the event

Around-the-clock comfort

The Red Cross works together with the fire service to bring valuable help and advice to people in need.

Just last week we responded to another fire emergency, this time in King’s Lynn. Six adults, one child and three cats needed support following a fire in a top-floor flat.

Fortunately no-one was hurt but smoke and water damage meant some residents were unable to return to their homes.

While the council sourced accommodation for them, emergency response volunteers Lesley Smith and Steve Swan provided shelter in their vehicles, hot drinks and a bit of TLC.

“Without us being there these people would have faced spending hours out in the cold,” Lesley said.

Lesley has been a Red Cross volunteer for 35 years. Steve is a former firefighter who signed up with the Red Cross when he retired.

“When I was a firefighter, I used to like having the Red Cross volunteers there because it means people can be sheltered and cared for in comfort, rather than in the back of a fire engine,” Steve said.

“It also means the firefighters can concentrate on doing the job of fighting the fire.”

Could you help out in a crisis?

We’re currently looking for more compassionate people with a bit of spare time to become emergency response volunteers – particular in the area based in and around King’s Lynn and in Gloucester.

Volunteers are given full training in a range of skills including first aid and emotional support. They also have use of emergency vehicles equipped especially for these emergencies.