London Fire Brigade

Firefighters reach out to victims of domestic violence

14 April 2016

We are rolling out a ground-breaking new scheme aimed at helping victims of domestic violence to rebuild their lives. It’s the first time in the UK fire service has achieved the prestigious ‘White Ribbon’ status for work in the community on domestic abuse.

The Brigade’s course offers help and information for parents requiring psychological support, as well as those needing support in accessing education and employment services. While parents’ needs are addressed the course teaches their teenage children an array of life skills such as, first aid, online safety, healthy relationships, mental health wellbeing and team building skills.

The course was set up by firefighters in Bexley who were concerned about the number of domestic violence cases involving arson, with the Metropolitan Police reporting 94 cases of arson in domestic abuse cases across London in 2015.*

Forty six adults and teenagers have already benefitted from the pioneering course known as Families Inspire Respect Security and Trust, or FIRST, which is aimed at 14-17 year olds and their parents or carers. The pilot, which began in February 2015, was such a success it is now set to be rolled out more permanently with a third course now underway. 

Firefighters anticipate that by the end of the course in June this year, 60 people will have attended, and there will be 120 attendees by June 2017.

Young people taught team building and practical skills

Adults can discuss their problems in a confidential setting and have an opportunity to access help and information, whilst their offspring are taught team building skills and practical skills. It is estimated that where there is domestic violence and abuse, children witness about three-quarters of abusive incidents.** Firefighters aim to tackle this by building their self-esteem, provide discipline and teach team-building skills.

 

Course a brainchild of Bexley fire commander

Richard Welch, the Brigade’s Borough Commander for Bexley, who was the brainchild behind the project, said:

“I kept hearing about domestic abuse cases involving arson and realised I had to do something to help. Ultimately every firefighter does the job because they want to make a difference and I could see this course as a positive way of helping some of society’s most vulnerable people.

“The adults are given access to a wealth of resources and support services and the young people, many of whom are traumatised from what they’ve been through, are taught firefighting skills, which helps to turn their attention towards something positive.

“We wouldn’t be able to run this course without the invaluable help of our partners. The Metropolitan Police, the London Ambulance Service and the Local Authority are present at every session and provide a vital input. We also include other partners such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

“I love running the project, I feel like we’re making a real difference.”

Mum of seven benefits from course

Forty four year old mum of seven Kelly, who suffered years of emotional abuse at the hands of her ex-partner, attended a course and found it so beneficial she decided to come back for a second course with her other child and plans to mentor other participants. She wishes she had been on the course before she met ex-partner because she said it might have helped her avoid the years of torment she and her children went through. She said:

“It is embarrassing saying you have been abused. You feel like you allowed it to happen. You think maybe it’s your fault or that it’s normal behaviour and it’s all in your mind. Coming on the course made me realise actually I am not in the wrong, I am not a failure and you can get through it.

“Everyone in the family was affected by the abuse I got from my former partner. This course has been fantastic, it has helped me and my boys. They were skipping school but after the course I’ve seen such a change in them – over the weeks their attitude and behaviour has completely turned around.”

A team effort

Firefighters from Bexley work with officers from the Metropolitan Police, London Ambulance Service and Bexley Council to run the scheme. The Metropolitan Police Service’s Bexley Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Jeff Boothe, said:

"We are proud to be a partner in this truly worthwhile programme and it is an example of our commitment to supporting victims of crime. The Met has always made it clear that it does not tolerate domestic abuse. We are committed to working with all our partners and local communities in order to bring perpetrators to justice and safeguard victims.”

The pilot course was evaluated by Victim Support and is held at Erith Fire Station in Bexley, where it is hosted by  firefighters from across Bexley, all of whom volunteer to help run it. The project has been so successful that firefighters in other areas of London, including Islington and Havering, are now looking to roll it out.

For anyone interested in participating, should contact Steve Leith on 07795542440/ email: steve.leith@london-fire.gov.uk


*Figures sourced by the Metropolitan Police

**Research from the Royal Society of Psychiatrists