Hampshire firefighter deployed in Bangladesh diphtheria crisis

Hampshire firefighter deployed in Bangladesh diphtheria crisis

Watch Manager Simon Forster will be part of a 40-strong team treating and immunising refugees against the deadly virus

A highly skilled Hampshire firefighter has been deployed to help medical efforts to combat a diphtheria outbreak in Bangladesh.

Watch Manager of the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Simon Forster is one of five firefighters who will be working with doctors and nurses in a bid to save thousands of lives.

The dad of two from Farnborough will be part of a 40-strong team who will be treating and immunising people against the deadly airborne virus.

Watch Manager Forster, 44, will be working through UK International Search and Rescue (ISAR) as part of the UK’s Emergency Medical Team (EMT) after it was requested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Government of Bangladesh.

This is the first ever deployment of the UK’s EMT since it was certified by WHO in 2016.

He said: 

“You join the fire service because you want to help people when something like this happens – this is what we are trained for.

“It is hard to know what the conditions will be like so it is best to keep an open mind – it is hard to imagine temporary hospitals being built out of bamboo and a refugee camp that is 20 square kilometres.

“We will be working to stop the spread of this deadly virus and treat those who have it – we want to help as many people as we can.”

Watch Manager Forster, who was previously deployed to Nepal after the 2015 earthquake, will be dealing with logistics to support the medical workers. He has been deployed for 21 days.

The firefighters will be organising the transport and the setting up of equipment, creating an infrastructure, communications, route finding and navigating as the medical teams travel between the refugee camp, two settlement camps and operate a roving unit.

Up to 160 new cases were being reported a day in the popular tourist city Cox’s Bazar which is currently home to about a million displaced people who have fled the violence and military persecution in Burma.

There are currently more than 2,000 suspected cases and more than 20 reported deaths. 

The UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) are providing vaccines.

Diphtheria is a fast-spreading potentially deadly infection that causes extreme difficulty breathing, inflammation of the heart, problems with the nervous system and paralysis.

Group Manager Jerry Leonard, who has been a member of UK ISAR since it was founded, said: 

“I know how hard the team work and train.

“I am extremely proud of them and to have one of our team picked to be part of the EMT inaugural deployment and help with this crisis is a reflection of their dedication.

“The team are highly skilled and Simon is one of four to have taken on additional training to enable him to be deployed to assist with medical interventions as well as natural disasters.”

National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) Chairman Roy Wilsher said: 

“Firefighters from the UK International Search and Rescue team have 25 years’ experience of deploying overseas to provide assistance to affected countries on behalf of the UK Government in times of crisis.

“UK ISAR are an integral part of the EMT providing logistics support to enable the delivery of life-saving medical interventions.

“The firefighters will be responsible for the transportation, accommodation and safety and security of the medical staff.

“They will also work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to improve standards within the refugee camps.”

Simon Forster
Simon Forster