SAFeRS and their journey of solidarity from Germany to Fournoi and Ikaria

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In times like these it is nice to read stories about solidarity. Solidarity is a big word. On the one hand it can be a philosophical subject, on the other hand it can be something tangible, when committed people become involved. It can lead to stories that are extremely touching. Here is one such story, worth writing down.

It is a story about a group of German and Swiss firefighters, who have a long-standing experience in fighting forest fires. In 2016, during the Greek crisis, they founded a non-profit organization called “Support Association for Fire and Rescue Services” (SAFeRS), aiming at collecting unused material – but still fit for use – from fire brigades in Germany and Switzerland. This material may be personal protective equipment, rescue equipment or even fully equipped fire engines.

The association helps carry this material to Greece, to those cities and villages where it is desperately needed. In the past few years “SAFeRS” has driven material to various towns and villages in Greece and Cyprus. There, they taught people how to use it, through theoretical training and various exercises. As a result “SAFeRS” has today a broad network of contacts with public and volunteer fire brigades in Greece.

By coincidence or streak of luck, “SAFeRS” learned about the activities of the association Friends of Ikaria in 2016, when they donated a used fire engine to the volunteer firemen of the island Ikaria in Agios Kirikos. The two associations kept in touch and “SAFeRS” was informed that the public fire brigade of the island Fourni was in desperate need of a fire engine. So far only a small fire engine was available in the nearest island, Ikaria, and when a fire or forest fire broke out, transporting the necessary equipment would take up to 6 hours. In many cases this was already too late.

So “SAFeRS” contacted the mayor of Fourni to offer him support, proposing to find a fire engine for the island. Frequent communication began. The mayor had some money available and “SAFeRS” started searching. In June 2017 they found an appropriate fire engine for sale, with a 1,200 l water-tank and fully equipped with a pump and other accessories. When the mayor of Fourni, Mr Ioannis Maroussis, received news that the contract had been signed, he was very happy, but the fire engine could not be transported in the summer of 2017 due to administrative procedures.

It was only by end of November 2017 that 3 “SAFeRS” volunteers put the fire engine on the road, destination Fourni. They started in Germany, near Cologne, and drove all the way down to Venice. There they boarded of an ANEK Lines ship and arrived to Patra.

They drove onwards to Piraeus, where they boarded a Superfast Ferry direct to Fourni. The mayor organized a welcome party for them and the fire engine keys were officially handed over. What a day!

The German volunteers stayed in Fourni for two more days, in order to train their colleagues on how to use the fire engine and its equipment. When they had left, the island had a fire engine worth about 13,500 EUR (cost for the fire engine itself, additional equipment, transport, customs fees, petrol). The mayor of Fourni had paid 6,300 EUR; the rest was donated by the “SAFeRS” association as well as from the ferry companies Anek Lines and Superfast Ferries.

On their way back to Athens the “SAFeRS” volunteers made a stop-over in Ikaria. They were warmly welcomed by the volunteer firemen of Agios Kirikos and they were offered a visit of their fleet. They even had the opportunity to see the "Yiayia", the oldest fire-engine still in use in Ikaria. But the representatives of “SAFeRS” did not come with empty hands.

They had brought technical support/rescue tools from Germany, to be used in case of car accidents, and trained the locals on how to use it. And of course their stay on Ikaria ended with a little tourist tour and some good food.

There are rumors, that the volunteers of “SAFeRS” might come back to Fourni and Ikaria – perhaps next time as tourists, to enjoy the beauty of the islands. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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