Category Archives: Salamander

Salamander: finding the courage to do what you didn’t think you could before

Over the summer 16 young people from the Group took part in the Salamander Fire Course. They enjoyed five-days of fire-fighting skills, first aid, water rescue, abseiling and much more. For Belinda’s daughter Immy it was her second year on the course. Belinda shares how Immy found the course and overcame her fears.


I recently met an adult who had been on a Salamander Fire Course and he said it changed his life and he couldn’t believe what he’d found the courage to do. This is exactly the same course our amazing young people take part in, and I find this so inspiring. The young people rise to the challenge and impress me more than I can express and the team of fire fighters, police and volunteers who expect the best and gently encourage and persuade until each young person excels are really amazing.


Immy is very fearful of heights and although greatly looking forward to her second year of the course had started to grimly fixate on the training tower until it became an all consuming worry.  Amazingly she was encouraged to climb the tower and although not reaching the very top still abseiled down from the level below. Her absolute trust in everyone enabled her to have a go.


I could see the before and after photos during the day and it was clear to see the relief and joy after she’d completed it!

This is what the course is all about. The ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ approach which can only happen if you feel very safe and fully trust those around you and of course if those around you fully understand you and know what support you need.

Immy’s favourite part without a doubt was cutting up cars. She spectacularly enjoys cutting up cars infact! But she also found the courage to lead her crew through a smoke filled building, she confidently climbed gantries to put out fires and literally immersed herself in the water rescue. She has come home a more independent and confident young woman.

I might add that she is still wearing her salamander t-shirts at home!


Well I don’t know about you, but I’m an emotional wreck! Thank you to you all for letting me part of your young persons life for these 5 amazing days. They are all incredible. 

This blog is really a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved in the course. But first a run down of this morning. Breakfast is eaten with delight and I’m sure you are all going to follow our lead and cook a full English for them for the remain of the holiday!! 

Down to the yard and into kit to run through the show. They all put their heart and souls into their parts so they can show you all what they have learnt throughout the 5 days. I hope you agree that it’s brilliant to see them going up and down ladders, cutting up cars and entering a smoke-filled house. As well as this there is the caring side as they look after the injured in the show, but not only that they look after each other. It’s a joy to see and I think firm friends have been made. 

So now to say thank you …… 

First to Danny, Loz and Chris from the Police. You guys have been amazing. Thrown into a group of young people who can be completely unpredictable, nothing has fazed you. You have been there for them every step of the way and they have loved you being there. Thank you for your patience, and thank you for listening, even if you’ve just heard it 3 minutes before! Please come again and visit us. 

Katie, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It’s like I’ve known you for years. Thank you for your shoulder in the moment I needed it and thank you for your kindness to everyone in the group. You came in this week and fitted in instantly, making friends with the young people and helping them when needed but ensuring they did it themselves when they could. We plunged you straight into water on the first morning and nothing has fazed you since. You are an amazing lady. 

Suzanne, even though you were only with us a short time you really made a difference. Thank you for your support and help. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed having you with us. There’s never a dull moment on our courses and you joined in and helped us through them. Thank you. 

Toby, wow you have made 17 new friends (includes me) Nothing has been a problem for you and you’ve looked after the groups with kindness and care. Thank you for all your support through the 5 days, it’s been such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for letting the young people be themselves but being one step behind them ensuring they are safe. You have really made a difference to them this year.

To all the Firefighters who have been with us on the course. You are amazing, I have so much respect for you all. Thank you to Steve, Nathan, Liam, Martin, Darryl, Josh, Matt, Dan, Rob, Jay and Nev. It’s you guys that make dreams come true for our young people. Even when you think they aren’t going to do it and its all going wrong you don’t give up and you get them to do it all again. Those are the moments they will always remember, those are the moments they will go and tell their families about. Thank you.

My biggest thanks is always to Mark and Nicky for the hours of hard work that goes into this course. You treat every single young person as if they were your own. Everyone is equal and everyone has an opportunity to shine. This is why this course means so much to us. Thousands of thank you’s will never cover how grateful as parents we are for your support in the course. Give me until September and I will be on the phone to you ready to book next year! Thank you so. So much for everything. 

I hope those of you that came today enjoyed the show. We are so very proud at what they have all achieved. We have seen maturity and confidence this week and it’s brilliant to watch them grow into the amazing young people they are.

I say goodnight to you all as I say a final thank you. This course has been brilliant. Thank you to everyone for letting us be part of your young person’s life. I hope they have enjoyed it as much as I have. 

I leave you with a quote I found….

“Be courageous in life. Life has so many opportunities so do not be scared to grasp any opportunity that comes your way. You have the ability to do anything you have your heart and mind set to do, even the things that frighten you.”

I raise my glass to them all and wish you good night.

salamander 2019 – day four

Another course nearly over, where does it go? We have had a great day in the sunshine. With the start of last week in the rain this week has been fantastic. Blue skies and smiling faces, how can you not love this course? 

After our wonderful breakfast (which was eaten nearly in silence) it was down to get changed ready to start our busy day. The teams were split so that two teams headed over to cut up some cars, one team went to the smoke house and one team to do hoses. 

There’s nothing better than cutting up cars and each young person had a go at dismantling a car. They started with popping the windows and this is such fun. There are some pictures of the shattered glass on FB now. Then the cutters come out. Immy’s eyes light up and the smile spreads, that girl can’t wait to get her hands on the cutting equipment!! She’s in her element. Everyone gets to make a cut and the roof can then be lifted off. 

Each year I joke about locking up your tools so you don’t end up loosing the roof off your family car. But I do worry that they are now getting really good at this activity and they enjoy it so much. So, I’m warning you now!

Meanwhile there was lots of activity in the smoke house with the added bonus of a little smoke. There was also action on the hoses and you know that all of this is going to be put together ready for the show. 

The morning shot by and it was soon time for lunch. Again, lunch is eaten and today they made record time. Served, eaten, cleared away and down in the yard in one hour. We went straight to the classroom where they picked their jobs for the show. It’s down to the real fun action stuff now and we start to get ready for tomorrow. 

The young people are sent to their jobs and the support crew now know their roles for tomorrow. Smiles all round as they screech around the yard in the fire engine. Lots of water and a baby…….. that’s all I can say on that matter. You will have to wait until the show to see what happens.

I’m looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow. 

Please remember that there is parking over the road at the County Ground. 


Wow, what a brilliant day we have had today! So, let’s start from the top. Breakfast was ready when we went up and they all enjoyed their lovely plates of sausages, bacon, eggs, beans and toast. Anyone would think they’ve never been fed before! Today they will need a good breakfast because it’s Nicky’s favourite day of the course, Water Safety Day. 

After breakfast it was down to the yard where the sun was out along with some chairs for everyone to sit on. No fire kit needed today as we get to wear the fluffy onesies and dry suits. First on with the onesies. Then the dry suits are squeezed onto the young people. There’s a couple of pictures of what happens when you don’t quiet get it first time and you lose the head inside the suit. This is the hard bit as the neck is designed to be very waterproof so is extremely tight to get over their heads. Once this is all done, they are zipped up and PFD’s are put on to ensure they float in the water, helmets and gloves are added to create an airtight young person. Now is not the time for the wind to be released from baked beans!!

Everyone is loaded onto the minibuses and Fire Engines and off we head to Coate Water. Once the other end off we get and the Walkway is inflated. Everyone carefully made it to the side of the enclosed area. It was at that point Mark made the call that it wasn’t safe to go in the water due to the vast amounts of algae. 

Plan B……

Everyone is loaded onto the minibuses and Fire Engines and off we head to Buscot Weir. What a great place this is. Everyone is eased into the water and the fun can begin. Now we usually do a little water safety but due to the scenic adventure it was time for fun. All but two swam across to the weir and I don’t do it often, but I’m stunned to say so did I. Yes I made it across!! Those of you that know me well know I’m the one who stays at the side so pat on the back for me, after doing 10 courses I swam…. 

The Firefighters have been over here many a time so knew that a great game is putting your head through the water in the waterfall. Yes your young people couldn’t wait to do this and many of them more than once. What a blast it was. They are all mad. 

Now it’s time to leap in and swim back. Some went in forwards, some went in backwards (some of us were misled into going in backwards..!! No names Mark !!) and someone did a somersault …..because he can. 

So now we have a few moments for removing helmets gloves and PFD’s and grabbing a drink and biscuit. Time to head back to the station for dinner.  Everyone was extremely hungry by now. Before we go back a quick visit to the toilets where Nicky discovered a Bat, yes you read it right, a Bat in the toilet. Don’t find one of those every day. 

I really am so proud of them all today, nothing was an obstacle and the faces and screams of delight as they put their heads in and out of the water was a delight. This could become my favourite day as well..!!!

I hope they all sleep well. 

See you in the morning. 

Salamander 2019 – Day two

Well to say today was wet may be an understatement. Did it stop us? Of course not… we laugh in the face of wet weather! 

Our lovely breakfast was ready for us as soon as everyone had arrived this morning. So, sat in their teams they devoured the usual sausage, eggs, beans, bacon and toast. I’m afraid the beans got to a couple of the young people today and the changing bay was a tad smelly at times!

After breakfast it was straight down to get into full kit and onto the minibus and fire engines to go over to Westlea to do the high tower, tunnels and first aid. The rain didn’t deter any off them and the first team was kitted up and ready to go up the tower. Green team were the first up and each one of them descended from the top. I’ve put up a couple of video clips on Facebook for you to see how brave these young people are. Blue team followed, then red and white were after. Only three young people didn’t do the abseil but each of them had a go at climbing the tower. A great moment as we heard the shouts of “I’m Spiderman” as one young person came down made us all chuckle. 

While this was going on the other teams were climbing and crawling through the tunnels. This year it was all a little muddy because of the … yep rain! Sorry for any black faces. 

Inside the station was a chance to stay dry while they talked about being safe, first aid and calling 999. Each had a turn at being a patient and putting their friends into the recovery position. They really did well at this. Maybe you can get them to show you what they learnt. 

We had an exciting end to the morning – the Boom Box. Tim, who is Watch Manager from the Training Centre, gave a brilliant talk on what happens when the gasses build in a fire and the dangers of breathing them in. There is a video clip on Facebook of the talk with the demonstration of the Boom Box that made me jump every time. So sorry for the jump while filming it took me by surprise even though I knew it was coming! It was a fascinating demonstration that all the young people were glued to. Thank you Tim for coming over to show us. 

Soon it was time to head back to the station for dinner. By now they were all really hungry and lunch was swooped up quickly. 

After lunch it was down and back into kit for ladder work and hoses. The teams had a go at climbing the larger ladders and using the hoses with a ride around the yard in the engine with the sirens on. Large smiles all round. 

Today has flown by and we’ve packed in loads. I hope you all have a good rest of the week and we are looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday. 

Please remember to bring your spare clothes back on Tuesday as we may need them. Also please can I ask that you put a name tag or a label on the bags as we have had several moments of not knowing who’s is who’s belonging’s. Not every young person can identify their own things. 

Don’t forget to take a look at the photo’s we have put up on our gallery page as well as our Facebook page. See you next week.


What a great day we have had. 2019 Salamander has started and we have some new faces this year. We welcome them to the best five days of the year.  

There are four watches (teams) Red Watch has Robert, Abbie, Milo and Sophie with FF Steve leading them and Police Constable Loz helping. 

Blue Watch is Lane, Callum, Charlie and Jeremy with FF Rob leading and Toby helping. 

Green Watch, Alicia, Jane, Immy and Travis with FF Nathan and Police Sergeant Dan.

White Watch, Josiah, Andrew, Jamie and Leo with FF Darryl leading and FF Josh and Police Sergeant Chris. 

Well for those who know the routine we start each day with a lovely cooked breakfast cooked by the extremely hard-working Nicky. Some of you may have noticed you don’t see Nicky in the morning, because she is slaving over a hot stove upstairs getting our breakfast ready. We have sausage, bacon, egg, baked beans and toast with squash. 

After breakfast it’s downstairs for the start of the day. The morning is filled with team building exercises. We have “Blind Leading the Blind”, “Shark Infested Custard”, “Bench Work” and “Getting to know the Pump.” Each team has a go at each activity. I think there may have been a little cheating on the blind leading the blind, but this is not unusual on this activity and it causes a lot of laughs. There was so much hugging on the benches. This is the only time we allow hugging during the course and they are not supposed to step off. Some great photos of this. We were all really impressed how they all worked together on the Shark Infested Custard. Lots of talking and instruction to each other. Well done teams great work throughout the morning. 

Soon it’s lunch time and I think they have worked up an appetite already! Lunch is laid out and ready upstairs. Lots of fresh salad, ham, chicken, tuna and egg mayonnaise, bread, wraps and crisps. Juice all round and a moment or two of quiet while they tuck in. I have to say there was not much left at the end. 

After lunch it’s back down to get kitted up ready for ladders, smokehouse, and hoses. The ladders did not seam to phase them this year. Even if it was climbing halfway or to the top, each one of them had a go. 

Inside the Smokehouse the baby was rescued (several times) and the teams found their way around the dark house using their hands and feet to feel the walls and locate the exit. 

The teams also got to use the hoses this afternoon and much excitement as they got to spray anything that got in their way. 

Please take a look at the photo’s we have put up on our gallery page as well as our Facebook page and Jo & Nicky’s 50th page also on Facebook.

All in all, a very successful day with lots of smiles and laughter. I hope they all sleep well as I know I will. See you all in the morning with your t-shirts on and ready to go. 

Night night.

Jo’s Blog 2018 Day Five

Day five, well where did that all go? Two weekends gone in a flash and with so many fantastic memories to take with us.
First a huge thank you to the group for the incredible book and t-shirt. What an amazing way to celebrate the 10th Salamander course. I know every young person will wear their shirt with pride as they have achieved so much in the 5 days. From a nervous start to a fabulous finish.
I need to thank the young people for their hard work and dedication. This year we accomplished so much. A fear of heights was overcome, the dark in the smoke house is not so bad after all, Coate Water wasn’t as cold as you expect and swimming to the other side is fine. Climbing to the top of the ladder and down again is always good when your team mates are there footing the ladder and telling you well done. All these things can be achieved with support from friends and determination from the young people. And they did!
So as usual we started the day with a great breakfast. Thank you Nicky for getting into work so very, very early to cook for us, everyone loved the eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and toast and some loved it so much they went back for seconds! Once the plates were cleaned it was down to changed ready to practice the show. It’s at this point the rain starts!! Once in kit it was into the classroom to go over the jobs the teams were doing.
Rain didn’t stop the high spirts and excitement of the up and coming show. The RTC was run through and everyone was happy with their jobs. Next the second part of the show was rehearsed and again it was if they had been doing this all their lives. They are confident and ready to show their families what they have learnt on the course. At no point did any of them complain about the weather, they were having fun, so no one was bothered.
I hope you enjoyed the show as much as we all did. I am so proud of them all. Next weekend isn’t going to be the same without seeing them.
I would like to thank Ed & Mike from the Police who were fantastic with all the young people. You were both a hit from day one. Nothing bothered you even when you can hear your name over and over again (Mike.) I think you both have a permeant fan club now. Thank you both for helping where needed but not doing it for them. You are both so patient with every single one of them. Thank you for giving reassurance and encouragement where need.
To all the Firefighters who put so much into this course to make it the incredible experience it is for each and every person who attends. Steve, Liam, Nathan, Nev, Sean, Martin, Dan, Ben, and Daryl. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are all my heroes, for putting up with me as well as our young people. Each one of you adapts to what is needed from your team each day. Your patience is wonderful, even when all around it seems like chaos!
Jo, thank you for your support this week, you have been incredible. Nothing is ever to much trouble and you have gained some new friends as well as seeing old friends. Thank you for being hands on and taking part in all those things you thought you may just stand and watch, they all loved you for being involved. I think there may have been some firsts for you this course as well!!
Mark, the man who makes this course the best course you have ever seen. The person who doesn’t believe in boundaries and pushes every young person to the next level to ensure they have achieved everything they can. You are fantastic with every single participant, nothing is too much trouble and if an activity needs changing a little so a young person can benefit from it, you do that and that means the world to them.
I’m not sure what we had in mind 10 courses ago when you were approached to do this, but I know that this now far out does anything I could have ever imagined. It is better than anyone could have the thought. I don’t think you really know what you mean to our young people. You have made dreams come true.
Nicky, we would not be celebrating 10 fantastic courses without your determination to provide something that would be so very different and challenging. You had the confidence in our young people and wow, it has really blown all expectations. This is the best course of its kind and it’s down to your belief in people with Downs, showing the world that there is nothing they can’t do if a little time, belief and patience is shown. Thank you for putting up with me all these years and thank you for letting me be part of this amazing experience.
So I say goodnight to you all for another year and thank you all for letting me part in these incredible courses and be part of your young peoples lives.

I raise a glass. x

Jo’s Blog 2018 Day Four

How does this course go so fast? Even with the break in the middle because of doing two weekends it has shot past and today is the penultimate day already and what a fun packed one it has been.
I don’t need to mention breakfast really as you know how it goes. Vast amounts of lovely breakfast are consumed and they are ready for the day.
Straight down to get changed as now they are going to be let loose with the hydraulic cutters! For those parents who have not had their young people do this before, we have asked the young people not to convert any family cars into sports cars but please remove all sharp objects just in case!! Immy and Jane took to this activity very well, too well probably (I’m trying not to laugh while typing this as all I can hear is Immy giggling as she removes another section of car.) Popping the windows before they cut the car up is also another popular activity. This also provides huge smiles.
Meanwhile the other side of the yard one team is heading into the smokehouse to rescue the baby, who once again is lost. This time it’s dark and they need to put all their skills to use and locate the baby and bring it to safety.
Around the corner in the classroom there is a lesson on First Aid with Mark. Who do they call? Is it important and needing 999 or will your parents/carers be able to help? We are delighted to how much our young people remember from previous years.
Soon it’s that all important time again and lunch is ready upstairs, again they enjoy their food and it’s down to the classroom for a briefing on who is going to do what tomorrow.
I can’t tell you much as it will spoil the surprise, but of course there is water involved and yes you get to witness the baby being rescued along with a lot more.
A few tired young people today, so early nights for all as we have a busy and important day tomorrow.
Again, can I remind you to park in the County Ground car park for the show as space is limited. The engines come into the yard at full speed on tight corners, I would hate for cars to be damaged and have to be put at the back ready for the likes of Jane & Immy to cut up because they love this so much and fresh cars are what they are after!!
Also be prepared to get wet as the weather is not looking to good and the show is outside.
I’m looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow.
Night night.

Jo’s Blog 2018 Day Three

Here it is Nicky’s favourite day of the course, Coate Water Day.
Of course, we need a good breakfast, you just can’t go swimming without a good breakfast. Sausages, eggs, bacon, and beans…..Mmmm beans and dry suits..!!! If water can’t get in, nothing comes out. I will leave you to your own thoughts on that one.
After breakfast it’s downstairs to get ready. As most of you know by now there is a lot to get on, a very fetching fleecey onesie to keep you warm in the water, then the dry suit, and then the shoes and a buoyancy aid jacket and gloves, oh and the helmet.
Once at Coate water it was time to get the suits done up and helmets on. Lucky we checked wasn’t it Cory & Mike! Could have been a very interesting moment as we entered the water…..
Off down to the water’s edge to do some rescuing. Ed, Mike & Steve needed rescuing. They all get a chance to throw the line in and pull the guys back. Some managed it well others did well not to follow the line in as they threw it, but all was good and Ed, Mike and Steve are safe and well.
There was some great endurance swimming from the group and some even made it across to the other side and back, while some were happy to splash about and sit on the walkway and be pulled around the water. We also saw some great swimming on backs having rescued a partner and swimming to safety. Immy and Jane made a great team and showed excellent rescuing.
The suits are designed to keep us all dry, well the girls didn’t find that at all, each one of us was a little damp to say the least when we got back.
All to soon it’s time to go back and have lunch ready to start the afternoon activities.
Blue team got to help clean the kit down while Red and Green watched a safety DVD and had a go at identifying hazards and planning fire escapes. Watch out for the Blu-Tac people so lovely crafted by Nicky & Mile! There talents are endless.
I hope they have enjoyed it all so far and you are ready for more action by next weekend.

Jo’s Blog 2018 Day Two

These young people amaze me every day. The teams have bonded so well and they sit and chat and make each other laugh as soon as they get upstairs to breakfast. Gone are the days when we had to get a team at a time to do jobs, now it’s done without asking. Sophie on cleaning today, the tables were wiped to perfection.
As soon as the room is clear after breakfast it’s time to head off and get changed for the fun bit of the day. I love High Tower day.
Now for the last few years we have headed over to Westlea to do the tower, but today we used the one on the station. I’m sure it’s so much higher than Westlea but it’s probably not.
How brave are these young people? Each one of them had a go and practically all of them came from the top. Charlie was adamant he wasn’t going to do it but amazingly came from half way and enjoyed every moment. So next year Charlie your going from the top…!! Callum also went from half way and was proud of his achievement. Luke made it into his harness and walked with me to the bottom of the stairs but very clearly told me “not yet.” It’s work in progress and he will do it when he wants not when we want him to. Jane wasn’t sure about it all but after seeing Immy go from the top she marched up the stairs at full speed and came down doing a star impression. Go Jane…..
While one team was enjoying this the other was in the smoke house rescuing the baby and cat. All is good, baby and cat rescued each time…. They then swapped over so everyone got a chance. While they were all waiting around it was time to practise a few knots. Alicia came up with some great knot work which may take a while to remove from the rope!
We also had time to practice the recovery position. This is done with tender care and we are delighted to say that they remembered how to do this. Well done all.
They all work so hard and put everything into it. So I hope they sleep well tonight.

See you all in the morning……..