Watch manager Paul Rigden and fleet driver Adam Flynn drove an old fire engine filled with life-saving items like defibrillators, trauma packs and hydraulic equipment to an undisclosed location in Poland around 30 miles from the Ukrainian border last month.
The pair made the four-day drive from Leyland Fire Station on behalf of Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, joining a nationwide convoy of 22 end-of-line trucks decorated in Ukrainian and British flags and cards written by school children, as well as five support vehicles and around 70 emergency workers, all led by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and charities Operation Florian.
Paul, 45, said: “We believe it was the biggest aid relief operation since the Second World War. You can imagine 22 vehicles with their blue lights on being escorted through towns and cities by Polish and German authorities. People were stopping and just clapping. It was amazing. It took an hour and a half to fuel up all the trucks. In Calais, cars were there for nine hours and police escorted us straight through.
Dad-of-four Adam, who has a military background, said: “It was a buzz to make a difference. From the first phone call to the journey home, it was an adventure to be part of something that would be remembered in history. But it was solemn, a weird one.”
Describing the moment they met some of the Ukrainian firefighters and handed over the donations, Paul, who has been in the fire service for 26 years, said: “They were emotional. They’re working under traumatic conditions - you can’t imagine it - but they just keep going. People are being trapped in buildings, a lot of infrastructure has been wiped out [by bombing] and they’re losing fire trucks. You’re not supposed to hit aid convoys who are just there to help both sides but I’ve been told Russia is specifically targeting fire services and ambulances.
Adam, 37, added: “Some firefighters were coming back from a job and [Russia] hit a few fire engines and housing. They’re machinery was wiped out.”
Despite their initial fears and being issued bullet proof vests for the trip, dad-of-three Paul says they couldn’t turn down the chance to help their Ukrainian brothers, adding: “No-one volunteered to go because of the uncertainty of what they would face there. We were talking to people after we volunteered to go and they said, ‘You must be mad.’”
[But] being involved a little bit is for me what the fire service is all about: helping people.
“It was quite an honour to be asked to go. It’s a privilege to represent the charity and fire service. I feel we’ve done a little bit to help in the fight in Ukraine.
“It doesn’t matter if you work in Ukraine, Poland or Britain, the fire service is one big family.”
The pair regularly do charity work delivering disused fire engines across the world to countries like the Balklans, Moldova, Zimbabwe and the Phillipines following war or natural disasters, and train people to use them.
Another convoy will be sent out next Thursday while Adam and Paul will join a third operation in May.