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State of the Union

09 February 2017

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack reveals how a new lottery fund is helping to change the lives of injured firefighters

By the time this magazine goes to press, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will have handed over £20,000 to the first beneficiary of its new Firefighters 100 Lottery fund, so named in advance honour of the union’s centenary next year. 

Andrew Adams, 49, a watch commander in Renfrewshire and father of two, suffered life-changing injuries when a wall collapsed on top of him in August last year. He was tackling a fire as part of the 24-strong team of firefighters who responded. As a result of catastrophic injuries, which include a severed spinal cord, a broken ankle and a fractured neck, Andy has no feeling below his chest and can no longer walk. Following two weeks in intensive care at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, Andy is now on a high-dependency ward undergoing intense physiotherapy and rehabilitation. 

Those outside of the fire and rescue service, and perhaps some within it, might imagine that firefighters who are severely injured are always looked after and adequately compensated. Through bitter experience the FBU knows this isn’t always the case, and this is part of the reason for setting up the new lottery, which launched with a bang on 5 November 2016. Looking after firefighters and their families when these kinds of traumas hit is one of our lottery’s five ‘good causes’, and it includes supporting families of firefighters killed on duty.  

Andy Adams has said that all the support he has received from family, friends and colleagues in the fire and rescue service has made a critical difference to his recovery and has kept him going. That is so good to hear. We take care of our own in the fire service, and we’ve been doing so for 100 years, since the FBU was born. Andy will need to move into a new home, as the house he and his family inhabit currently is too small to accommodate the many changes needed to make Andy’s life comfortable. No doubt the lottery award money will come in handy here.  

Good causes

Lottery funds will also go towards establishing proper memorials to all of those firefighters who have been killed on duty. We feel this is only right and proper, but again, it doesn’t always happen. Monies will also be spent on research into the well-being of firefighters, who, along with other emergency-services workers, suffer a higher rate of mental ill health than the rest of the population because of the incredible strain they are under. We are selling around 6000 lottery tickets each week and we hope to be able to achieve a lot of good with the proceeds. Charities and other organisations, as well as individuals, can apply for lottery funding, and all applications will be assessed by our lottery distribution panel. 

The Firefighters 100 Lottery will be thriving long after our centenary year next year is over. In 2018, there will be commemorative celebrations and events around the country, building towards the main centenary event in London in the autumn. The story leading up to the establishment of the first ever, badly needed trades union for firefighters is a fascinating one that we are keen to tell. The lives of those early pre-union firefighters, housed at stations under very grim conditions, with inadequate pay and no rights, were gruelling but no barrier to the extraordinary camaraderie that has always existed among firefighters. It was this feeling of always looking after each other, of being part of a family, that helped foster the formation of what was initially known as the Firemen’s Trade Union, changing to FBU in 1930. 

As this magazine went to press, the FBU had just offered to help the bereaved family of a 38-year-old Hampshire firefighter. Alan Bannon died with his colleague Jim Shears while putting out a fire at Shirley Towers in Southampton in 2010. Before he died, Alan gave an iPod to his daughter, containing more than 300 of his favourite songs. This ‘musical hug’, which was priceless to young Abi, was stolen from her car in January. The FBU is offering £1000 for its safe return, not out of its lottery proceeds but from its general funds, which are, of course, made up of firefighters’ earnings. Because this is what firefighters do: we look after each other and we always will.  

Matt Wrack is general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union

To purchase FBU lottery tickets, visit www.firefighters100lottery.co.uk