Category Archives: Salamander

Jo’s Blog 2018 Day One

Here we are again already. I can’t believe this is our 10th Salamander, and what great fun we have had already, so much packed into it. It’s a strange year for me as this time Oliver is not on the course. He is having a wild time away with some new friends. But we welcome Jane and Immy to the course for the first time.

It’s so nice to see the young people all coming together like long lost friends. They all get on so well. In fact, this year (so far) there is a real sense of calm to the course, I’m sure it will change!

We start with our usual breakfast and they all know exactly where to go. They quickly get themselves seated ready for the sausage, bacon, egg, baked beans and toast which Nicky has prepared having come in very early to cook. Juice and fruit are also provided so we have everything covered.

We are not in groups yet, so they can please themselves where to sit just this once. Plates are soon clean and everyone is ready for the start of the action.

Back to the classroom to find out what we are doing. They are split into their groups and sent off to discover the station. It’s also time to get kitted out and t-shirts on. They are proper teams now.
Helping Blue team we have PC Ed and helping on the Green team is PCSO Mike, we also have Jo on the Green team.

Our team building consist of “Shark Infested Custard” Blind Leading The Blind, with small amounts of cheating (Jane) and benches, big hug time! Blue team this year are certainly feeling the love!
Dinner, a well-deserved fantastic lunch, Salad, rolls, bread and a choice of fillings with fruit and drinks. After dinner we get to do……Yes my favourite, (just before anyone else gets it in) it’s pole drop time.

At this point we get a special guest arrive. Cory joined us to say hello. Cory was part of the team a few years ago helping on more than one course. He brought along his new puppy for us to see. Only he didn’t leave! We managed to get him into a kit and he spent the rest of the afternoon with us, just like old times.

Time for the fire hose, ladders and smoke house. Each team are kitted up and ready to go. Everyone managed the ladders this year, reaching the top of them and touching the top, nothing seems to stop them. The smoke house was put into the dark (all windows closed) no smoke yet but feeling their way around in the dark was great, all working as a team calling for each other. Myles is a great team member as you know exactly where he is, just follow the giggles.

Shouts of joy came as it was hose time and they got to spray the yard down and anyone else if they were standing too close! Rolling the hose still needs some practise as we seemed to have forgotten that it goes in a tight roll not in a loose baggy heap, not sure who it was because Oliver isn’t on the course so I can’t blame him!
Home time came around far too fast, but we are looking forward to a full day tomorrow with new challenges and achievements. Can’t wait!

Early nights for all as we worked them hard, and there was a lot of yawning today! See you in the morning.

Capable of great achievement

Nicky shares what the last 10 years of Salamander have meant to her…


Does it sound overly-dramatic to say that Salamander saves lives?


10 years ago, I saw a YouTube clip about a group of young people taking part in a fire service training course in Essex. They were running out hose, climbing ladders and having a brilliant time. They also all had Down’s syndrome.


Within minutes I had contacted the committee of the Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group to ask for permission to contact our local fire service to see if they ran anything similar here. I wanted my boys to have that experience, I wanted them to gain an understanding of the fire and rescue service and learn how to respond in an emergency but, most of all, I wanted them to have fun with their friends whilst learning and achieving.


Yasmine Ellis, a youth engagement worker, replied to my message on the Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service website, as it was known then, to say that she would like to meet. Little did I know that this would be a pivotal moment in the life of my family. We met, chatted and enthused over the possibilities and then met with Watch Manager and Salamander Commander Mark Evans. He had already been thinking about how to make Salamander accessible to the wider community of Swindon – Salamander had previously been thought of as a tool to engage young people who were at risk of exclusion from school, working with community groups such as the Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group and Swindon Young Carers would extend that reach to include those that could gain positively in any number of areas: a break from caring, independence skills, social and communication skills, gross motor skills and safety awareness.


So, Swindon Down’s Syndrome Group’s annual Salamander course was born. That first year just 11 young people took part and what an amazing time they had. Nothing was adapted because we found that nothing needed to be adapted. These young people could listen, understand instruction, manage the heavy cutting equipment, crawl through tunnels wearing BA sets and swim across Coate Water. They enjoyed the company of the firefighters, enjoyed being with their friends and enjoyed learning important fire safety messages.


All that sounds wonderful but how does that save lives?


Well, just a few years into supporting our young people on their annual course I was invited to support on other courses to prove that our young people weren’t receiving a diminished service but that In fact, they were able to challenge every young person on a course in terms of ability, enthusiasm and a desire to achieve. This opportunity led to me volunteering on every course and then being offered a job and this is where saving lives becomes apparent.


The day I started paid work was the day after my husband’s funeral. Salamander became a life-line, a family, a reason to get up in the morning and to put one foot in front of the other. My new colleagues cared for me and my family. They were there to help in person as well as on the end of a phone or ever present on cyber-space. They went above and beyond to meet our needs. They heard our calls for help and responded if only to say, ‘We are here for you.’ They also continue to do so four years down the line and I and my family owe our well-being to them all.


Our young people have embraced this course; they consider the instructors friends, they quote safety messages and count down the ‘Sleeps to Salamander’ each year. They enjoy the company of friends and work as a team. They challenge themselves, encourage each other and celebrate achievement with cheers, dance and song. They welcome new-comers as only they can and mourn the loss of loved ones with maturity, bluntness and love, as only they can.


It has been an incredible honour to be a part of this project. We have learnt, loved and laughed together and it is now a major part of our lives and we will be forever grateful.


The start of a wonderful Salamander journey…

Jo Messenger looks back over the last 10 courses as part of our celebration of 10 years of Salamander.

10 courses … I remember the day that Nicky showed me the YouTube clip from a course in Essex that started this whole wonderful journey. Who would have thought that this would be the highlight of the year for many young people (and parents and carers) all these years on? I truly thought that we would do it for one year and it would be great but never to be repeated. How wrong I was! Once you have been involved with Salamander you are hooked for life.

This course has changed my life, meeting so many fantastic people and seeing the course members grow and develop as they learn their new-found skills. My passion for Salamander is only beaten by that of Nicky and Mark’s for this remarkable experience, as without these two it wouldn’t happen.

Everyone who takes part sees the course differently. Some take part once and feel they have achieved all and some email me the day after it finishes to check if they can apply for the next year. However our young people see the course they will remember it forever.

The best thing about Salamander week is seeing the smile as they achieve something new. Seeing their self-esteem grow throughout the week, seeing their sense of achievement as the roof comes off the car after they have just cut through it! Seeing a huge smile as they abseil down the tower. Seeing them forge friendships and bond with their team mates. Seeing the excitement on their faces watching the blue lights and the screaming fire engine as it hurtles around the yard.  Why wouldn’t you fall in love with this course? There is nothing that can’t be done by the last day, even if it’s only the start of something, it will grow. Your young people also grow on this course, they grow into proud participants wanting to show off the skills they have learnt.

I’m so proud to be a part of this incredible course. I’m proud of each and every member that has ever taken part. Thank you to all the parents for putting your trust in me and letting me a part of their experience. Thank you.

Jo’s Blog Salamander Day 5

Friday, where has this week gone? I love this week so much and now it’s Friday and I won’t be seeing smiling faces and having hugs. It all goes by so fast. One minute we are getting them into kit on Monday and then we are saying goodbye to new friends and amazing young people. What a week it has been!

Now with glass in hand, I raise it to all the 17 young people who have put their heart and soul into this week and achieved so much. It’s not easy running around in that kit on a hot day. But I am sure you can see how wonderful they are and how well they did.

I don’t think I have to say that we start the day with the usual breakfast, but it’s going to be missed and you parents have a lot to live up to in the morning. You will need to cook the eggs, bacon and sausages plus the toast and beans!! Cereal is just not going to cut it now.

Once we are cleaned up it’s back to the classroom for a rundown of where everyone is going to be. A few changes from yesterday so we have the correct people in the correct place. Before we can go out and start on practising we have to wish someone a happy birthday. Yes it’s Mark’s birthday at the weekend so the guys handed him a little gift from all of us and sang happy birthday. So now we have made Mark blush we can go out and run through the show to make sure it’s all perfect for this afternoon.

Outside the cars are ready in place to cut up. We can’t do this until later so we are just pretending at this point. Then it’s time to screech around the yard in Fire engines, Ambulances, and Police cars oh I love this week so much, I just never get bored of seeing the excitement. I know you will have all enjoyed the show as much as I have because they love showing you what they have achieved. They all work so hard to get to correct, and I must say it pays off. I am sure there were a couple of unplanned bits because that’s what happens on a live show.

Each year we have a fantastic set of helpers and crew to ensure the young people get the best out of the week. So, I thank them from the bottom of my heart as this week wouldn’t work without you.

Abi – Thank you for the continued support on this course, you are loved by the young people and support me wherever I need it. Nothing is too much trouble. We love having you with us each year.

Phil – Always so kind hearted and gentle with our young people and of course the master of the selfie. You are respected by your team and your support means the world to us.

Shannon – You deserve a medal! You have been fantastic this week. Never fazed with whatever is thrown at you just taking it all in your stride. Your help has been fantastic dealing with difficult situations but still calm and strong. Thank you, Shannon, I couldn’t have coped without you.

Simon – You have listened to what the young people say and helped where you can, guiding them into doing the correct thing. You always encourage the them to be independent but you are there if they need it. Your support has been great. (Yes, Simon the bottle is in hand!) So, thank you for your support this week.

Pav – So good to see you back. Your team took to you the minute you were teamed up with them. You are great with the young people. Kind and caring and ensuring all achieve to their full ability. Your team had great respect for you and you help them achieve things that they may not have done without that little bit of encouragement.

Kevin – I know you weren’t there today and we missed you. But you are the most patient person I have come across. You have been there watching out for Luke all week, never too close but always knowing where he is. The team respect you and you have helped them and encouraged them where needed.

Lukas – Thank you for your support this week, you have encouraged your team where needed and been there to support them. You help where needed and step back at the right time. I am going to miss your adventures and the amazing places you have been.

Miles – Nothing is too much trouble and the guys loved you. A great Instructor. You have been great with the team, kind and caring and ensuring all achieve their full ability. Your team had great respect for you and you help them achieve things that they may not have done without that little bit of encouragement.

Martin – They love you and you were a hit the minute you came into the classroom. They loved your sense of humour and the team always worked well for you. Your ability to keep them on track is great. Hope to see you again on our next course.

Nathan – You kept us safe at Coate Water and the young people took to you as soon as you joined us. Thank you for your support as your calming influence worked well with our young people. They respected you from the start.

Dan – Thanks for putting up with the banter from a few of the young people, they really did love you. Nothing is too much trouble and he gained some new mates this week.

Steve – Salamander wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t there. You are so good with the young people and they respect you so much. In fact the whole group respects you. You are encouraging and kind but you ensure each person develops the skills they are there to learn. You always make every team member achieve all they can. You’re the best.

Nev – What can I say? Apart from I love you to bits. You have helped me all week through tough moments and made me laugh. You are an incredibly patient man and you make sure everyone has achieved what they are supposed to before we move on. You have a way of making sure they understand everything they do. Thanks Nev, you are a fantastic person.

Fraser – You are our incredible camera man. Always there for the perfect shot, but helping out ensuring our young people are ok and doing the correct thing. Everyone on the courses loves you and respects you. Having seen some of the shots and knowing how your mind works, I can’t wait to see the DVD’s this year.

Mark – Your team were delighted this year when they found out you were taking them. You have pushed them to new limits and expanded on what they can do. Your vision on what the young people can achieve is just brilliant. You know how far to push them and they know you have faith in them and that means the world to us. Your help and reassurance is what makes this course so special. Mark you are an incredible person that makes this course the best in the country.

Nicky – The kindest and most caring person I have ever met. My friend who picks me up when I doubt myself. Someone who is always there for me and others. You may not get to see all the Nicky does as most of it is behind the scenes. But Nicky is a huge part of our Salamander. From cooking the breakfast, preparing dinner to tidying the garages, putting the names on the pegs, laminating, paperwork and the list goes on…… oh and keeping the fire fighters in line!! While she is doing all this, she is still caring for each and every young person. Tonight, I raise my glass to an incredible lady. My friend Nicky.

Now I say goodnight to you all as I say a final thank you. Thank you to everyone for letting me be part of your young person’s life for one week. I hope they have enjoyed it as much as I have. They really do inspire me. I have enjoyed every moment of this week and I can’t believe it’s over for another year.

Jo’s Blog: Salamander Day 4

Where does the week go? Day 4 already and what a day it has been. So, we start with breakfast because that’s what our group does best. Never come across a group that enjoys breakfast as much as this group. Mind you Nicky does a fantastic breakfast.

Once breakfast was over it is off downstairs to see what we are doing for the rest of the day. The excitement starts when Mark tells them it’s Westlea for abseiling. Into the mini bus and fire engines for a drive over to see a different fire station, they are all packed in with kit on, Nev is the man with the plan once more making sure everyone gets a ride in the engine on one of the journey’s and then off we go.

As well as the high tower at Westlea there is a great smoke house with tunnels to explore, so there is a lot to pack in, in one morning.

The groups also have a session covering first aid and what to do in given situations. They have pictures of different accidents, cuts, bruises and breakages and they must say who they would call. Would it be 999, 101, Doctor, or parent/carer? They all did well and were keen to answer.

The first team head off with Mark to explore the tunnels and smokehouse. Blue team are kitted up first to go up the tower. I was so impressed with Alicia who flew up the tower and couldn’t wait to go abseil down. What a star, first time ever and she went from the top! Go Alicia! I hope you all saw the live clip on Facebook. Andrew also went from the top and giggled all the way down. Charlie and Nicole came down from the 2nd run. Nicole talked herself into being confident and putting her faith in the ropes!! Very funny to listen too as in one breath said she was scared then in the next “I can do this I’m safe in my harness”. Well done Nicole you were safe and you did it.

It takes a lot of courage to have faith in the firefighters and rope for our young people and not all of them want to go from the top. This is fine with us because the achievement is going over the edge from any level. I wasn’t around for all the drops as pictures need taking of the other groups but I was behind Sam waiting for my turn as he went from the top and I’m sure he may have cracked a smile on the way down! You know it was good when it has taken all their effort to make it up, then they don’t want to do it and when they have done it once, they want to do it again…….next year guys, next year. Most of the young people are now very confident about going from the top. The others look on and clap and shout as each member comes down.

While taking pictures in the entrance to the smokehouse Nicky and I were very privileged to see Father Christmas practicing his decent down chimneys!! Yes it’s true, Nicky has the picture to prove it……….

With everyone completing the abseiling, tunnels, smokehouse and first aid we gather the troops to head back to the station for dinner. Into the garages and kit off, I would say hung up but we are still working on that, and up for lunch.

Again, all the food is eaten and seconds are consumed if they are quick enough. Tables cleaned and back down to the classroom. Now is the moment that suddenly things start to come together as we get ready for tomorrow. They have gained a lot of confidence over the week and they know the routine and where everything is, most of them now understand what is expected of them.

So, tomorrow is Show Day and it has come around so very quickly. They have lots of people coming to watch and they are so keen to show off their skills to family and friends. I can’t really tell you what they have been up to this afternoon as it will be giving the game away. You will need to come along and see for yourself.

Please can I remind you to park in the County Ground and walk across. There is not enough room in the station and the engines will be whizzing around. So, if you don’t want your car to end up like the ones they cut up please don’t park in the station.

Can I also remind everyone to make sure your young person has ALL their belongings when you leave tomorrow, please check their pegs!! It is very busy tomorrow and I won’t have time to check you all have everything.


Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow.

Night Night

Jo’s Blog: Salamander Day 3

The morning routine of eggs, bacon, sausages and toast is on the minds of the young people today and they can’t wait to head upstairs. As soon as they have breakfast on their plates the room falls silent as they munch their way through the plateful. It’s good to see clean plates but must stop them eating another plateful as they need to fit into the dry suits in a while. So once the tables are cleaned it’s downstairs to get kitted up ready for Nicky’s favourite day.

Downstairs in the garages the kit has been put on each chair and named so we can get changed as quick as we can, every moment is needed at Coate Water so it’s all hands-on deck to change. First to get on is the fluffy onesies in a fetching grey this year for some of us or black for others. Then the dry suits are eased onto the young people. This is the hard bit as the neck is designed to be very waterproof so is extremely tight to get over wriggling heads. Once this is all done they are zipped up and PFD’s are put on (I remember from last year!!) helmets and gloves are added to create an airtight young person. Now I’m not allowed to do zips up as I have a track record with Nicky and Abi and a little leakage last year. Soon we are put onto the transport according to Nev’s list. The man with the plan! All good and off we head.

Once at Coate Water it’s down to the side of the lake and the first activity is rescuing the instructors who are now floating around on their backs having far too much fun. So the lines are thrown in to rescue and pull them back. They all did very well, especially as it’s a challenge to see what they are doing, you see (or not as in this case) we take their glasses off not to lose them in the water so a few are as blind as a bat and just go with throwing and hoping. Now they have all had a go it’s time for them to join us in the water and have fun.

A few brave ones go with the instructors and swim over to the other side. You will need to read Nicky’s blog for that as I stay where I can feel the bottom of the lake, and of course to look after those who want to stay in the shallow area. Soon we added the walkway to the water which pleased Luke, he had been waiting patiently at the side waiting for his ride onto the water. Now it’s everyone for themselves on the walkway as they try to push each other into the water. They love this bit and it creates great footage for Fraser’s DVD clips. All too soon it’s time to go back, first though we are hosed down before getting the dry suits off. Some of us are hosed down a little more than I think is needed Steve!!

Everything is packed into the lockers on the engines and we head back to the station for lunch.

Because everyone is at Coate Water all morning we need to wait until Nicky has lunch prepared so we get to watch and sing along to a few music clips chosen by the young people. A wide variety from Gangnam style, Ben E King stand by me, to Frozen!

Lunch is ready and it’s upstairs, they are all very hungry by now and once again the food is swooped up and they settle to eat. Where do they put it all?

Back downstairs to watch a DVD about escape plans for your home. They all surprise me and answer the questions correctly on what to do in a fire. So now you can plan your home escape plans with help from your young person. Next, we go into our colour groups and look at hazard posters where they need to spot the hazard. Good spotting from all teams. Each hazard they find they have to pop a little round sticker on. This caused a few laughs as those stickers don’t always go onto the sheet and just when you think you have it, it’s still on your finger!

Now, I’m not the best in water, but today has been great. Seeing the smiles and hearing them laugh is worth every moment. I hope you’ve all looked through the pictures. There are many more but you need to wait to see those on the movie night!

I really do hope they all sleep well tonight as we have an exciting day tomorrow as well.

Good night all.



Jo’s Blog: Salamander Day 2

Day two already, where does the time go? We have had such a laugh today. Your young people make us smile every day, but today we have laughed so much.

First things first, breakfast! Routine is set now and they all know what happens once Mark has said it’s time to go up. Nicky meets us with the wonderful smell of cooked breakfast and there are smiles all round. Off they head table at a time to collect their plate full of sausages, egg, bacon, beans and toast. It’s hard to resist the smell of cooked breakfast even if you are still full from yesterday.

Once we are cleaned up it’s down to the classroom to get ready for the day. Because of shift patterns there are some new faces helping out and a couple of changes with helpers. We are joined by FF Martin who led the Blue team and Shannon joined the blues as well today. We also had help from Myles a Fire Service Volunteer. It was kit on for everyone so we could practice drill as a complete group. Yes, we still need to work on the left and right!!

Red team hung their tunics up and head off with Mark to set up the Chemical shower, Portaflex Shower, well so it says on the box! Because it is Seamus’s birthday today he gets to slip into a nice little outfit and try the shower out. If you haven’t seen the video clip on our FB page now is the time to look. The huge yellow suit is to protect the firefighters in chemical spills. Seamus got to stand in the shower and then walk out the other side. Just brilliant. Once the suit is off he is completely dry. Unlike his team member………. Douglas was dared to go in, and did! I haven’t laughed so much in ages. He was soaked from head to foot. Lucky the leggings and boots kept him dry on the bottom, but the top…….

Now that shower seemed to attract attention, at one-point Alicia was standing in it. Behind her a Fire Fighter with a glint in his eye turned the water on, all be it very slowly. A little voice suddenly said “u-oh” as she looked down to see the spray of water coming out again. She soon moved, but it left us laughing again.

Meanwhile Green team were cutting up cars, not just any car I hasten to add before you all get nervous but I must say don’t leave sharp objects about if you value your car. This group caught on very quickly that cars come apart nicely with large cutters. You’ve been warned! This is my favourite part, I really love the car cutting. I think it’s a power thing but it may be just the satisfaction of hearing the crunch of the cut.

The Blue group were on the hoses, with rolling them out, under running and spraying anything or anyone. Poor Nicky only went to take a picture and was seen as the perfect target. The groups move around so all have a go at each activity.

Soon it’s time for dinner, so upstairs and dinner is waiting. It doesn’t take long for the quiet to fall over the room as the food is demolished. They pack away another lunch and today they get a treat from Seamus who kindly brought birthday cake in. We all sang happy birthday and chocolate cake was handed out. I’m sure there is a film about chocolate cake……. Gone in sixty seconds?

Back down to start again, the groups continue to swap around and complete each task. Red team are in the smoke house making their way from one window across the house to the other, only being able to step on the wooded squares and plastic strips. They need to climb into the house through the window and work as a team making their way across and out the other window. Great team work.

Blue and Green are working together this afternoon on the pump and there is so much more water involved now. Of course, in tradition if there is a birthday to celebrate and it means a soaking! Seamus was having none of this as he has seen what happens in the past!! So if Shay won’t go to the water, the water must come to Shay…he he he !! He is calmed into a false sense of security while they plotted behind him. And action… you need to see the footage and pictures on our FB page, priceless.

Of course, Myles see’s that moment he has been waiting for since spying the shower. A perfect opportunity to end the day with a soaking. This is why I love this week so much. There is never a moment where they think, shall I do this? No straight in a think about it later. Just brilliant.

It’s Marks birthday at the end of the week. I say no more.

Hate to say it but it’s Coate Water tomorrow. Please remember to have that spare kit with you just in case a suit springs a leak or I don’t do your suit up far enough as Nicky found out last year!

Early nights please and sleep well as we need you with less yawning tomorrow.

Take a look at all the photos in the gallery

Jo’s Blog: Salamander Day 1 2017

The best week of the year has arrived again and Salamander 2017 has started. It’s so good seeing everyone back and welcoming some new faces as well. This year we have three teams.

Red: – Leading the team this year is Mark, the red team is made up of some of the experienced old timers that we want to push a little more. Phil- Forensic Paramedic and Simon a Volunteer assistant supporting Mark. The team is Seamus, Josiah, Douglas, Oliver, Michael, Myles and Zachary.

Blue: – Leading the team is Nev, in blue team we have Alicia who is new to the course, Andrew who we welcome back after a break, Sophie, Charlie and Luke who all know the course well. Helpers are myself (Jo) Fire Service Volunteer Lukas and Fire Service Volunteer Kevin.

Green: – Leading the team is Steve, with help from Abi – Advanced Ambulance Practitioner, PC Pav and Shannon a Volunteer assistant . Green is made up of Abbie who is on her first course, Rhys who we welcome back after a couple of years, Nicole, Sam, and Marcello.

Our team also includes Fraser and Nicky who are looking after everyone. Fraser is on camera duty as he is the best at tacking pictures ready for his famous DVD’s. Some of you may have noticed you haven’t see Nicky in the morning yet again. It’s not because she doesn’t want to it’s because she is slaving over a hot stove upstairs getting our breakfast ready.

We start with our usual cooked breakfast, the regulars all know exactly where to go and guide the new ones to the correct tables. They sit themselves down ready for the sausage, bacon, egg, baked beans and toast, juice and fruit so know one can say they are hungry as they all tuck into good platefuls. Whatever you do, don’t give your young person breakfast before they come! What they consume here is large but they do work it off during the day I promise.

After cleaning the tables it’s down to the classroom to find out what we are doing today. The board is set up showing the signs to what will be going on. This way everyone can look and see what’s happening.

So, we start with tours of the station seeing where everything is and getting to know the safety side of the week. Meanwhile the other teams are getting into kit and we can start team building exercises. “Shark Infested Custard” and this year a new way of getting through and across the boards and staying out the sea!! Blind Leading The Blind, which this year was more a whistle stop tour of the cones (for those who have been before we all know this is where Fraser grows his safety cones and we need to be guided around them not to upset the growing.) They took it in turns to blow the whistle to change the lines direction. To be honest blue group just headed off regardless of the of instructions. Then to benches, where it is big hug time! We also practise drill. Must work on left and right. But hay it will all be fine on the show!!

The teams have a look around the smoke house. As always for the first time the windows are open and the lights are on. There is a new layout this year so we have a good look round so they can try and remember where everything is so not to get lost when they go in, in the dark.

Soon it’s time to head up for dinner and everyone looks as if they have never been fed. Vast amounts of food is hoovered up. We have Fresh bread, ham, chicken, tuna, cheese, crisps and lots of salad with fruit and juice. We are trying for the healthy options this year and I must say it has gone down very well. So, if your young person won’t eat salad at home I may have the picture to prove they do. After clean up time it’s back down to the classroom and we can get ready for the afternoon’s activities.

Fire hoses – and my favourite a quick spin around the yard in the fire engine and thank you to Nev for taking us in blue group around again to stop me moaning it was too short a ride followed by getting the hoses out and spraying water at the roof and rolling the hose in the correct way.

Ladders – Up onto the roof climbing a short ladder to the first section. Well done to Alicia who was cautious at first but got to grips with it and made it up with no fear. They work together to put the ladders up against the wall and then one shouts “foot the ladder” and waits for the “ladder footed” response before they head up. Then we walk over to the tower where there was a perfect photo opportunity for Nicky to take pictures. Sorry to the full timers who waited until we had finished before they could do their drill.

All to soon the cars start turning up for them to go home. I do hope they all sleep well as they have worked hard today.

There were a few clean t-shirts left on the pegs. So if you are missing your clean t-shirt for tomorrow please collect it from your peg and don’t forget to take it home tomorrow.

Don’t forget to view all the photos in our gallery

Jo’s Salamander Blog – Day 5 2016

Last day, I can’t believe its Friday and it’s all over for another year. I want to be happy and say so many positive things about this week, which I will, but it’s Friday and it’s all finished for another year. Thank you to you all for letting me be part of your young people’s lives for a week. They have brought so many smiles and laughter I won’t be able to mention them all. They are inspirational young people. Thank you.

What will be the things I will miss most next week? Ryan’s witty one liners, Lanes acting career, Callum holding the door open with a smile, so polite, Myles’s pole drop and Marcello’s enthusiasm for life.

Breakfast as usual this morning with everyone filling up knowing it’s the last cooked breakfast for the year. Thank you to Nicky & Denise for being there early so we can enjoy our full English. Next it’s down the pole for the last time. We won’t have time at dinner as it will be show time. Nearly everyone managed it and now they are extremely good at this and it’s all done quickly. Jamie has promised he will do it next year as the drop is still just a little too much for him.

Out in the yard everyone kits up and we get ready to practise the show. This is such fun with the Fire Trucks, Ambulances and Police Cars all at full blast around the yard. I’m such a big kid as I love this bit. The crews are now practising the show and we go over it a few times so all will go smoothly later!! You just know there will be ad- libs and extra funny bits added in and we never know what is going to happen. This is the fun of this day; as much as we practise some of these lovely young people are going to do their way!

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.


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Now I must say thank you to the amazing team who work with the young people all week. Without these people the course would not happen. A fantastic team of great people.

First the Senior Crew: Ben, it was wonderful to see you back for another year. You treat all our young people as equals. You chat and have fun and you are a brilliant role model. The young people respect you and you are able to get them to carry out what you ask with ease. I really wish you luck in your future as I think you will be an amazing Fire Fighter. Good luck Ben.

Carlos, you have been brilliant. You have made me laugh so many times this week. The young people took to you from the start and you won their hearts. Your patience with helping is great and nothing is too much trouble. I do hope we will see you again.

George, you are just fantastic. You have been amazing with all the young people. Your help and kindness towards them has been noted. Nothing is ever too much trouble. Boot fitting, glove finding, retrieving young people when they start to wonder off. You have been a real asset to the course.

Ellie, you are such a lovely polite young lady that has worked her socks off this week looking after the young ladies on the course. You really did go down well and we loved you. Again nothing is too much trouble and you fitted in well with us all.

Thank you to our PCSO‘s Jules, well what can I say? Jules thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are always there to help; nothing is ever too much trouble. You don’t mind whatever it is we can ask, you will do. You always have a smile and I have loved having you back on the course.

Phil, brilliant, just brilliant! The young people loved you (sorry like)! I’m going to miss your name being bellowed across the dining room in the morning. You really have supported them all so well. You are always positive and encouraging towards the young people. Thank you.

To Abi & Phil who always bring fun to First Aid. Though Phil could only make a couple of days this year due to work commitments, he is always loved by the young people and his sense of fun on the lake at Coate Water is great and well captured on film! Abi, for all your help and support in this week. For being there when needed, to help out and keep the young people positive and on target. Your support is greatly appreciated on this course.

Now to the marvellous crew: Steve, you know who much respect I have for you for putting up with Oliver for another year. You never leave anyone out and always explain everything so everyone knows what they are doing at all times. You are so good with each young person. “Steve McDonald” thank you so much.

Liam, you have been great with the team, kind and caring and ensuring all achieve to their full ability. Your team had great respect for you and you help them achieve things that they may not have done without that little bit of encouragement.

Sean, for your calming way with the team, for letting them try something new and praising them for it. You are firm but gentle with them and they respond to you well. You lead them into activities letting them think they are in charge but knowing you are in full control at all times. Salamander would not be the same without you.

Fraser, the best gadget man in the business. I can’t wait to see what you come up with this year in your DVD’s. You always make people smile and laugh even if it is for the fourth time so you get it spot on for the picture. Though you don’t have a team we know you are always there with a helping hand and the camera! So thanks for pulling Oliver out from behind the pipe and I hope it made a great shot!!

Nev, it was so good to see you back with us this year at the end of the week. You are so kind and patient with the young people. Thank you for letting me loose with the car cutters!! It takes a brave man to hand those over to a woman!

Maca, we welcome you to our Salamander week and really hope you will come back again. You have been great with the young people always listening and helping each person as they need it. You have given encouragement where needed and they have respected you for this. Thank you.

Nicky, you put so much work in behind the scenes and people don’t see you slaving over a hot stove so we can have great meals. You are there for me and the teams, so caring and thoughtful with the young people’s wellbeing at heart. Always ensuring they are achieving what they can with kind words of encouragement. You believe in each member and praise even the smallest achievement which means the world to them all. You know Nicky I couldn’t do this without you. I have so much respect for you.

And of course to the man who makes this whole thing come together so well Mr Mark Evans MBE (yes I know, so cool)!! We can never say thank you enough times. There is never a minute on the course that goes by without you helping and reassuring and praising. You are the most amazing person and the whole of the salamander 2016 team thanks you from the bottom of their hearts as you have made dreams come true.


Now I say goodnight to you all as I say a final thank you. This last week has been fantastic. Thank you to everyone for letting us be part of your young person’s life for one week. I hope they have enjoyed it as much as I have. They really do inspire me.

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



Jo’s Salamander Blog – Day 4 2016

The week is going by so fast, one minute it’s Monday and now I’m typing up about Thursday!

We have had such a busy day today with another birthday. Yes Myles is 22 today. Happy Birthday Myles, thank you for the lovely cake.

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Breakfast is cooked and upstairs we head where they are now in full routine. Tables are set and juice is poured before each team head into the kitchen to choose what they want. This is usually everything!

Once we are all done it’s time for the pole drop. We are now confident and only Jamie is still nervous of the pole. It’s not easy to lean forward and grab the pole while facing the drop and for some it takes longer to master it. Its fine we don’t mind and we don’t force them into it. It will happen when they are ready.

Back down in the yard it’s time to get kit on as it is car cutting day today. RTC – Road traffic Collision for those in the know. We split the teams into two today so they get one car each to cut apart. They all get a go at slicing their way through the car and converting it into something smaller than it started. The cutters are extremely powerful and heavy but the young people take it in their stride and carry on.

We do try hard to enforce that window smashing is only for Salamander car’s but you may wish to make that really clear at home…..!! They were very good at it……say no more.

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So while one team is car cutting the other is going into the smoke house and through the tunnels. Today there is smoke inside to add to the drama. They are looking for the baby in the dark rooms. Don’t worry the smoke is safe and used by the Firefighers to train with. I’m not sure today if baby was found? Its fine we shall recover him later!!

Once the two cars are looking well cut up and we have crawled through tunnels, they have worked up an appetite (yes more food) for lunch. Today was pasta and chicken with salad. The sound of silence was lovely as I came into the dining room after getting my lunch. They were all so focused on their meals. I have to say it doesn’t last long as silence is hard for Myles as he starts to giggle, then they are all off and the chatter starts again. Thanks to Myles’s family we have a lovely chocolate birthday cake. We all sing happy birthday and more giggling as he blows out the candles.

Soon it’s time for a quick pole drop, yes it’s getting quicker as they gain more confidence each day. Back over to get changed and into the classroom to be shown what they are doing for the show.

At this point we usually say “that’s all folks” as we can’t tell you what goes on until you see it tomorrow. But! Because it is Myles’s birthday it is only right that he gets his gift from the Salamander team.

Gareth has prepared a large (and I mean large) barrel of water at which point Myles is lifted and popped into it. With screams of joy….honest, he plunges himself up to his neck. He is then carefully poured out. Now a few hugs, one for Jules and one for Abi, who runs around the yard being chased by a very wet Myles. Happy Birthday mate for all the crew.

Last day tomorrow. A sad moment as I love this week so much. I am looking forward to seeing you all at the show where you can cheer on and be proud of your young person, because I know we are.

Nigh night