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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Australians at heart of Cambodian firefighters

Australians at heart of Cambodian firefighters

FIRE. If you are an Australian it sends not just shiver down your spine but gut-wrenching, emotional scenarios of devastation and loss of life, for it is a country where what they term bushfires have each year a devastating effect on communities across the nation.

Lives are lost, homes, property, livestock devastated. Each year, somewhere in this massive continent, death becomes a fact of life.

Cambodia perhaps does not have the geography, the landscape, the population to feel the brunt of such awesome natural force but firefighting is preparedness, it’s equipment, it’s manpower, it’s readiness
– and it’s training.

And who better than to impart that than the Australians?

AFIRE, Australian Firefighters International Relief and Education, was established by Australian firefighters to provide assistance and fire services in developing countries.

It was established by Paul Hurford, the director of overseas operations in 2006, after he visited Cambodia and was moved to action by the state of the fire service in the recently war-torn country.

A not-for-profit Australian registered company it is also registered as an international NGO in Cambodia. It has become quickly acknowledged worldwide and is expanding its role and influence globally through partnerships with other NGOs.

It has a broad base in the Kingdom, training firelighters in areas such as firefighting skills, protective equipment and hazardous materials; developing infrastructure, which includes firefighting equipment and vehicles; and developing and implementing various programs of community education targeted at both schoolchildren and adults.

Hurford, based in Cambodia but spending a great deal of time in Australia, is also overseeing as director of overseas operations other Asia nation projects. The organisation is currently running one in East Timor and is looking at expansion to other countries during the year and has assisted in a number of projects in South America in the past.

“We have increased the number of major training programs with a least three occurring in Cambodia this year, as well as some smaller projects. We currently have a group working in the northeast provinces and will have another project occurring in May,” said Hurford.

“Our training subjects change from trip to trip, however we are in the final stages of a project to deliver basic training to all provinces across the country. To date we have trained over 600 firefighters in Cambodia with some having attending multiple training programs.”

Hurford believes the biggest achievement AFIRE has achieved is the standardisation and delivery of protective clothing to almost all of Cambodia’s firefighters.

“We have also seen major developments in their enthusiasm for their jobs. The fire service is challenged like all Cambodian departments with lack of funds, which results in poor wages and little equipment. One of the big issues is a lack of standardisation in equipment donated by other nations; a lot of equipment donated is not suitable or not compatible with their current resources.”

AFIRE has a number of priorities and not all are on the front line.

“Community education is a very big priority in a number of ways, from the basics of educating the community on the existence and role of the fire service, through to fire safety education,” he said.

“We are in the process of expanding a community education program this year with the aim of providing education to more than 5,000 children.”

AFIRE receives assistance in many ways from fire services throughout Australia, which Hurford says is essential for its ability to provide equipment and expertise. Most of AFIRE’s funding is sourced through grants and fundraising and not through the fire services.



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