A volunteer who helps people cope when their homes are wrecked by fire or flood, is urging others to become part of the British Red Cross.
Juliana Ali, 31, has seen her life transformed after joining the FESS (Fire Emergency Support Service) team of the British Red Cross. The team is based in Swindon but travels to help people in crisis across the whole of Wiltshire.
Now she’s anxious to let people know the benefits of volunteering and often working alongside Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service.
“You make such a difference as a volunteer for FESS because even making a cup of tea, or giving a hug to someone in crisis can make the world of difference to them. To be able to be with that person and support them is so valuable, it warms the soul.”
After completing a degree in biomedical science at the University of the West of England in Bristol, Juliana assumed she’d pursue a career in medicine. But she unexpectedly found herself running a well-known Swindon restaurant, The Jewel In The Crown.
“After I graduated my dad became ill and I felt I had to help by looking after the business while he got back on his feet. I thought I’d stay in the restaurant for about a year and think about what I wanted to do with my life.
“I found I had a flair for business and project management and that I loved working with people, whereas a medical career was likely to be very lab-based.”
Alongside the family business, she became a nursing auxiliary and also began volunteering in the town. But her life transformed when a regular Jewel In The Crown customer, a firefighter, recommended she contacted FESS, part of the British Red Cross.
“I found out more about it and went on to have some training and I haven’t looked back, it’s been fantastic. My first job was to attend a lightning strike in Toothill, where lightning had struck a tv wire and telephone socket in a home, destroyed the roof and had taken out power to a whole neighbourhood.
“I came along with my colleagues and my job was to make sure the family were okay, visit an elderly lady at the end of the street and make any calls for her.”
She has since supported a family where the top floor of their home was destroyed by fire and an elderly couple in Chippenham whose home was wrecked by a flood.
“The lady was completely devastated and it meant so much that I was able to offer some practical support, help out with insurance calls, medical calls, get the doctor round.”
So inspired by her experience, Juliana is now doing a six-month internship in London with the BRC to train up to provide emergency support and aid in international disasters. She’s still in Swindon at weekends helping out in the restaurant and continuing to be on call for FESS.
“Volunteering has opened so many doors for me. In May we are off to Snowdonia to climb a mountain and raise funds – something I would never do if it wasn’t for FESS.
“I’m also going to be going to the Olympics to provide logistic support – an opportunity that I cannot believe has come along.
Juliana is one of a team of volunteers who now provide a 24/7 support service for the British Red Cross in the county. If the fire service attend an incident and feel extra care is needed, they will call in FESS.
Volunteers are called via a pager and attend incidents in a vehicle equipped with clothes, food, blankets, toilet, shower – to help deliver basic needs in the hours following a fire or flood. They will then provide ongoing support if needed, in the days, weeks or even months after the crisis.
There’s no age limit, currently volunteers range from 20 to 65, and some offer a day a month of their time and some offer more. For further information call the FESS team on 0773 611417.