20 Years

February 1991 to February 2011

This whole venture started in February 1991 when David Hutchings flew The Gambia for a winter break. I visited The Gambia Fire & Ambulance Service, as it was called at the time and with Roger Bakurin now the Chief Fire Officer saw both their only fire stations for the whole country.

Whilst there, a road traffic accident occurred on the main route from Banjul the Capital to Serrekunda, the largest town in the country, over 300,000 population, which, incidentally at that time had no fire cover. David witnessed the tragic loss of life in a car trapped under a lorry which had broken down and was propped up on stones on an unlit road. At that time Divisional Commander on the then A Division of Avon Fire Brigade and on my return, sought support from Pat Aris, who was the Chief and Terry Walker, Chair of the Avon Fire Authority. Fortunately full support was given for my request for a redundant fire appliance and rescue kit, this being forthcoming from Angus and a number of suppliers to Avon.

We held an Industrial open day at Avonmouth fire station where we appealed for financial support to get the appliances and kit to The Gambia. On that day the amazing sum of £11,000 was raised. This was the start of an incredible journey which we celebrated this February with a formal Charity GAFSIP, Gambia and Avon Fire Services in Partnership. It was with immense pride that I visited this year and The Gambia Fire & Rescue Service now employs 1,200 firefighters operating out of 13 Fire Stations, provision of sea and river rescue out of 5 water rescue stations and 8 clinics on fire stations offering free medical services to their communities. On the 20 year anniversary a new station has been opened in Farafenni, central upper river Division on the north Bank with the second busiest river crossing.

The station is a credit to The Gambia Government which has supported the development of ,Gambia Fire and Rescue with the building of fire stations and employing the fire fighters. The GAFSIP logo is proudly displayed on the station perimeter wall adjacent to the main North Bank road. This characterises the esteem built up over many years of the partnership, a station built by The Gambian Government, planned by the local community with fire engine & rescue vehicles and rescue equipment supplied by GAFSIP.

The stations are truly integrated with their communities offering a range of services in addition to fire, including well and latrine pit rescue and the delivery of drinking water at time of need. This is the first time these communities in the provinces have received any services and support from a government department, “The Fire Service.”

In 2001 I proudly received the Honour as Commander of the Republic of The Gambia, the first time this award has ever been awarded to a non national. In this year the partnership became a formal charity with the creation of GAFSIP. This placed the future on a much firmer footing. Whilst our focus is fire and rescue the additional benefits have been that 50 schools have been helped with furniture and books plus IT where appropriate, two hospitals benefit from medical kit donation, drugs dressings, including fire service clinics. The Fire Service in the communities identify the needs and address where possible with the donated items, this further cements the bonds with the community fire service.

Banjul national library has also received hundreds of books from our libraries. A further significant development of which we have directly support is that of the development of Women’s Support Groups, initially starting with Fire Fighter’s Wives. These groups have immense needs to aid families at times of need as there are no benefit systems in the country.

A key factor for our success has been that the foundations were built on friendships as well as a professional relationship. In addition to the donation of the tools of trade, a sustained training programme on all aspect of fire rescue and maintenance has been in place.

Who would have thought that this initiative would survive for 20 years. This has only been possible due to the commitment and support from The Avon Fire Authority and Terry Walker in particular, whose support has been absolute to me as the Patron, Avon Fire & Rescue with again special mention of Kevin Pearson, the Chief Fire Office and Chief Executive

Farafenni fire station with trainers and community leaders.

Funding For GAFSIP

The charity only raises money for shipping and occasionally emergency spare parts and we survive on a hand to mouth basis with a small and very loyal band of supporters and a number of local businesses In all 20 years we have achieved our goals without accumulating money, remaining in the black. Many mad initiatives have been undertaken to raise money from drives from Bristol to Banjul with all manner of vehicles from 50 year old Land Rovers to Ambulances, and Deputy Chief Fire Officer Gerry O’Brien running cycling and canoeing the length of The Gambia in 40+ degrees

Volunteers and Training for GAFSIP

Before talking of volunteers an essential element to our survival is Avon Fire and Rescue Service Fleet Maintenance and equipment department, without whose support and patience we would not have survived.

We maintain a healthy list of volunteer trainers who fund their own visits, which in itself demonstrates commitment and, to date 60 plus members of Avon Fire and Rescue supported by volunteers from Devon & Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Airfield crash crew training has been carried out by volunteers from Serco at Airbus Filton.

A special mention of Chris Millard has to be made as Chris and his wife, Mary, have provided unstinting support to the project with Chris coordinating all training visits and have shared their home with all our Gambian colleagues visiting Avon. Mary has been a motivator and instrumental in the extension in health support and the womens’ group.Chris and Mary have visited The Gambia many times. all at their own expenses in order to aid the development of their service.

Fire Fighter Dave Price has visited 8 times over the years supporting training, demonstrating outstanding commitment. Seen here meeting the nation’s President

The Training Department has grown and now has a complement of 18 motivated trainers led by a senior trainer and Training Manager in line with the Avon AF&RS model. The Dept is capable of training up to 120 recruits in basic & BA Training. Over the many visits subjects such as Train the Trainers, Station Management, BA, Boat Handling skills and vehicle maintenance, have been provided. Many of the visits have included personnel form Airbus Filton providing Airfield Crash & Rescue training at Banjul International Airport. During the time of the partnership the Airport FRS has become stand alone from GFRS with many of the staff transferring across to the new organisation. Through the long term friendships made trainers meet with staff that have been part of the many specialist training visits over the years.

The GAFSIP trainers were honoured to be asked to provide the hotel, sea and road safety training for an African Union Heads of Sates summit.

We are in difficult financial times yet the support is still recieved from so many to experience training and working in a totally different culture and climate in a developing country. Once again, without the trainers the project would never have achieved the standards that now exist, whilst being less than we would expect in the UK this is service saves lives and serves their communities at times of need.

Sandra Connolly is a foundation stone of GAFSIP and over the 20 years Sandra has given her time and support to every aspect of the venture. On her first visit to The Gambia in 2001 Sandra was awarded the status of Honorary Gambian Fire Fighter

February visit 2011

During the course of the visit the trainers met with local Chiefs, District Commissioners and Governors of various Divisions in the Country, all of whom expressed appreciation for the work of GAFSIP and what it meant to their respective communities. Trainers met The President of the Republic of The Gambia His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh, at the Independence celebrations reception at The State House. A formal visit was also made to the newest station at Farrafenni.

A training visit was also made in November last year where the CFO, Kevin Pearson and Councillor Colin Barrett received the insignia of Commander of The Republic of The Gambia at the National Fire Service day event in Farafenni. This is the highest award that can be made and Avon Fire and Rescue is only the second organisation to be awarded this recognition.

The Ferry from Banjul to Barra demonstrates the need for Rescue services.

The Gambia / GAFSIP rescue Boat

Without GAFSIP there would not be a Fire and Rescue Services in this country with a population of 1.5 million people.

Redundant Airbus working at height kit and a Breathing Air Compressor now serving the people of The Gambia

February visit 2011

  • GFRS developing from 2 to 13 stations covering all divisions of The Gambia
  • 5 Water Rescue stations serving the fishing industry and tourist areas
  • 50 Schools equipped with books furniture and IT
  • 6 womens centres created
  • 5 Fire service clinics achieved to date each with qualified nurses and paramedic.
  • Royal Victoria Hospital supplied with equipment
  • Bansang Hospital supplied with equipment
  • Various clinics within communities supported
  • Banjul Library supplied with books and IT
  • 9 senior officers received training in the UK

How this has been achieved

  • Avon Fire & Rescue
  • North Bristol Health Trust
  • British Red Cross
  • City of Bristol
  • City of Bristol College
  • South Gloucestershire Council
  • North Somerset Council
  • Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue Service
  • Dorset Fire & Rescue Service
  • Nuffield Hospitals
  • Serco
  • Airbus
  • Aztec Rotary Club
  • Bristol Rotary Club
  • Airbus UK
  • All in addition to many loyal private supporters.

An amazing project that has achieved so much, a sincere thank you to all supporters from myself and trustees. More importantly a Thank You from the people of The Gambia.