Fire station visit. Sunday 21st August
At the Spassky fair I spotted a fire engine, but realising a small foreign woman gibbering to these scary big uniformed chaps alone would not make sense I phoned Anna to come and help me. Poor Anna ( and Olga ) spend the days scurrying about dealing with 10 requests at once, having to repeat themselves endlessly, and demonstrate infinite patience. I always felt bad joining in with their load. But this was fantastic, Anna bravely knocked on the large imposing fire engine door and explained who I was to the chaps who were a good foot taller than the average Tatar/ Yelabuga Russian. Their vehicle could eat ours for breakfast.
They were formal at first, I gave them badges and pens from the Scottish Fire Brigade Union, then when I asked specific questions about their watch, systems and equipment, it started to dawn on them that I was an actual fire-fighter not control staff or administration.
There are No women firefighters here, they were shocked stating that it is dangerous work and not suitable for women, but they had warmed and were impressed. Its always challenging for me finding a situation where women are ‘not allowed’, I’ve spent my life fighting inequality in UK That my gender makes me a second class citizen, or that I would have to dress and act in a submissive way in some countries to survive is so offensive to me, while I respect different cultures its hard for me to imagine relinquishing my independence- especially after a life of doing both mens and womens work at the same time. However at the fire station in Yelabuga, I felt more surprise at me being a fire fighter than doubt at my abilities. More chivalry than chauvinism ( although are they not part of the same thing ? ).
I guess like Russians in general, when you get past the initial reserve they are wonderfully hospitable and friendly. So on the Sunday visit I met the station manager, if I remember correctly there are 4 watches of 30 men, on a 2 on 2 off basis. Although in the recent forest fires they had all worked flat out back to back. They don’t have a pager system but instead telephones they if they are not in the watch they can still be called up. The control room is within the station with 3 terminals and like ours ( in Inverness to cover the whole area ), runs off satelites and can contact every station in Tatarstan in 3 seconds.
While we were there there was a call out, they don’t use a pole, are all based on the ground floor. They have a fleet of 30 vehicles, different specialised trucks, which all were much higher than ours, they explained that the smaller Russian roads in villages etc are pretty bad, especially in winter, so off road wheels are required. The use the Draeger Breathing apparatus that we do, a different model but same make, they also have cutting gear, but a truck fro rolling hoses which sounds great ! We saw canvas hoses drying in the yard, they’d used a lot of kilometres worth in recent fires. These hoses were much larger diameter than ours 1.5 or 1.2 ? Cm, they looked like they weighed a tonne, our 70mm’s are bad enough.
We were also shown the bosses office, he is in charge of all the report writing and paper work, unlike us where we are all currently lumbered with bureaucracy and administration. They have a small gymnasium with some seriously vintage iron weights and whatnot, a homely kitchen and rest room, and a basic dorm where the night shift are required to rest unless that are at a call.
Then the obligatory photo call, swopping web and e-mails etc. It was brilliant to touch base and make contact with colleagues working with such different equipment to ours, It was good fun showing my crew at home the photographs, once we got past the ridiculous James Bond villain and spy thriller narrow impression of Russia that people in UK have grown up with.