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There is no ‘999’ system in The Gambia

Written on . Posted in News.
Two donated fire engines

Operation Zephyr 2024

When you phone for the emergency services, you expect them to arrive quickly, using modern state of the art equipment with trained and prepared crews wearing full PPE. We expect them to be there in our hour of need, and sometimes the darkest hours of our lives. Flashing blue lights, a sign of hope through the darkness. Now imagine being in a world where you phone for the emergency services, but no one comes. No fire appliances to race to the scene and extinguish the fire or no ambulance to provide life saving medicine and rush you into hospital. This is the daily life of those living within a small African nation on the west coast. This is The Gambia. 

With a population of just under 2.5 million, The Gambia is a small but growing nation, relying heavily on tourism and some exports. The Gambia is still facing some big challenges when it comes to its emergency services. In 2019 the Gambia Fire & Rescue Service consisted of just 6 fire stations and appliances for the entire country. This doubled in 2022 when The Emergency Services Aid Charity delivered another 6 to bolster their numbers. This has meant new fire stations have been able to be opened away from the capital in Banjul to serve the more remote villages and towns. Many areas of The Gambia have no running water, meaning no hydrants or access to water for firefighting. This makes firefighting extremely dangerous and difficult and fires spread much quicker.

In 2019 the Gambia Fire & Rescue Service consisted of just 6 fire stations and appliances for the entire country!

When called to incidents, many fire appliances arrive either empty or with only half a tank of water as they struggle to access it. Whilst they may send more resources to tackle the fire, the time taken to travel the distances to the incident often make any incident a total loss. Recently a major fire broke out in the Baku sea rescue station, totally destroying the lifeboat and rescue equipment based there. Luckily no one was hurt, however the impact on the sear rescue service is huge. 

There is no ‘999’ system in The Gambia, so people rely on knowing the phone numbers of their local clinic or fire station for assistance. I saw this myself whilst working with the crew at Baku in September 2022, they received a call to a fire in the local hospital. This was done by a member of staff at the hospital running to the station and speaking to the wife of a firefighter who was running the watch room at the time. She rang a bell in the station which alerted the crew who then responded. Luckily this incident was a small one, but if they had needed further assistance, rather than call on the radio which we use in the UK, they have to ring the next fire station along and ask them to attend. There are no radio systems available to the GFRS so they must rely on WhatsApp and mobile phones.

Crews rely on WhatsApp and mobile phones.

The second aim of the charity is supporting the health service in The Gambia. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Gambia has one of the highest under 5-year-old mortality rates in Africa at 47.89%, whilst their infant mortality rate sits at 34%. We saw for ourselves the conditions of the hospitals, some consisting of mud buildings with a metal roof and a bed. Ambulances are a thing of luxury away from the main tourist areas of The Gambia, often with people just making their own way, whatever way they can to the nearest hospital, which can be hours and hours away.

In September 2022, Operation Zephyr delivered 18 emergency vehicles, equipment and PPE to the Gambian emergency services. We set off from the UK on the 4000-mile journey through France, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and then into The Gambia. This meant crossing the Sahara Desert, some of the roughest roads we had ever encountered and hot and humid landscapes with no air conditioning! It was certainly a challenge. We are going to do this all again in September 2024, with more vehicles, more equipment and more PPE for The Gambian emergency services. But this is where we need your help.

For just 75p per mile, you can help our vehicles get to their destinations. All funds go towards the fuel, transport, maintenance and purchasing of suitable vehicles ready for the Gambia. This year we have been incredibly lucky to have 3 fire appliances donated so far through FIRE AID and North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, we still have some way to go to reach our target. We are looking to organisations to sponsor the vehicles too, with the possibility of branding to be put on our vehicles. We had a number of sponsors last year, making our trucks very colourful!

If this is something you would be interested in, please get in touch with us to discuss. We can look at any options you would like. All of your support goes to saving lives!