Relief fire engine hotfoots it from Kirkby Stephen to Bulgaria …

Date: Thursday 1st April 2010
Loading up the fire engine bound for Bulgaria in Kirkby Stephen market square are left to right..Jim McCallum,Annie Taylor,Sandy Lancaster,Maureen Willis,Ronnie Marston,John Heron,Alan Willis and driver  and project leader David Widdop.
Loading up the fire engine bound for Bulgaria in Kirkby Stephen market square are left to right..Jim McCallum,Annie Taylor,Sandy Lancaster,Maureen Willis,Ronnie Marston,John Heron,Alan Willis and driver and project leader David Widdop.

A FIRE engine loaded with vital equipment has been donated to a Bulgarian community, thanks to the efforts of a Kirkby Stephen family and their friends.

Alan and Mo Willis, of Kirkby Stephen, are two of the founders of charity Balkan Vision, which was set up to channel aid to the people of Bulgaria and Romania.

Friday saw the fruits of their latest mission to send a fully operational fire engine for use in a Bulgarian town. The engine, driven by members of UK fire service charity Florian, arrived in Kirkby Stephen’s Market Square, where it was loaded with donated goods and equipment ready for its journey.

The Willis’s links with Bulgaria began about seven years ago when, on a holiday in the country, they were taken to an old people’s home by a local pastor.

“The conditions were appalling, you just wouldn’t have believed it. They have improved slightly since joining the European Union, but they still have a lot of catching up to do,” said retired nurse Mo. She added that the problems she had witnessed were not the fault of carers, who were struggling to do the best they could with very limited resources.

Having seen first hand the level of need, especially in care for the elderly, Mo and Alan, along with friends from Preston and Sedbergh, launched registered charity Balkan Vision about four years ago. Their subsequent fund-raising efforts have been helped by daughter Sandy Lancaster, also of Kirkby Stephen, who has run a number of events including pet shows and coffee mornings, which have been well supported by town residents.

Alan and Mo themselves have given talks on the work of the charity to various local organisations, which have then made donations totalling several thousands of pounds over the years.

The money has been used to buy basic foodstuffs and equipment, such as waterproof mattress covers for use in care homes for the elderly.

With the Willis’s regularly spending around three months of the year in Bulgaria, they have been able to cut down on the cost of having aid shipped over by taking the cash and spending it in Bulgaria on the goods and equipment that are needed.

On one visit to a Bulgarian town, Alan and Mo happened to see its single fire engine and were shocked by the age and condition of the vehicle.

The fire engine was severely dilapidated and had a 50-year-old Russian engine and wooden ladder. Hoses were worn to the point that they had to be repaired with bandages after each use.

This vehicle, which could not even be relied on to start when needed, has been the only firefighting equipment for a town the size of Kirkby Stephen and 17 outlying villages.

Having seen the state of the vehicle, Alan and Mo approached Florian, the stated aim of which is to protect life in needy communities worldwide by providing firefighting equipment and training.

After assessing the case put forward by Balkan Vision, Florian decided to allocate a second-hand fire engine donated by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, and has also loaded it with ladders and other equipment. Three volunteer firefighters from Florian have given up a week’s annual leave to drive the vehicle to its destination in Bulgaria. They plan to embark on 24th April, arriving in Bulgaria three days later.

The cost of diesel for the journey from England to Bulgaria, as well as insurance and other paperwork and a set of specialist cutters for freeing people from crushed vehicles after an accident, has been met by a donation of several thousand pounds from a wellwisher who has a long-standing interest in the charity.

Also loaded on to the vehicle at Kirkby Stephen on Friday were medical equipment donated by a local doctor, a free-standing basketball hoop donated by a resident which will go to a home occupied by 148 mentally disabled men, and dressings and other equipment given by Boots the Chemist at Kendal.

Alan and Mo plan to travel to Bulgaria to meet the fire engine on its arrival.