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Salamander Day 2 2015 Nicky’s Blog

Day Two – and I don’t see any of you arrive as I am slaving away for hours and hours in an intensely hot kitchen for all of them to come and devour it within minutes – well, when I say hours and hours it’s a slight exaggeration more like an hour and a bit and when I say slaving it’s probably more like a leisurely plod but it is still intensely hot and the point really is that I don’t see them all till they arrive for breakfast and I love it! No. not because I don’t want to see them. It’s because when they see me upstairs it takes them by surprise and they look and sound so pleased to see me. Every one of them comes and says/shouts hello and asks how I am. It’s lovely.
So after breakfast is consumed and clearing and cleaning done we decide that today the pole drop will be a morning event just to mix it up a little. Charlie did both drops without a care. What happened to that terrified man from last year??? Stephen as well is so much more confident on this activity and descended today with barely a murmur. We also have two visitors this morning from the fire service who are involved with Salamander but wanted to find out more about our course.
We went to Westlea fire station today in order to abseil from the tower because we just like their tower better. There are also the sewer pipes, a different smokehouse, a vintage fire engine and room in the appliance bay to practise First Aid.
So a myriad of vehicles were employed to take us there and unfortunately I had to travel there in the fire engine whilst others went in vans, fire service cars, fire service minibus and the ambulance. Then the challenges of the day began. The visitors had asked me about the abseil and I had been talking to them about all the various methods that the instructors employed to encourage the more wary to attempt the abseil. One of the visitors asked me if they were allowed to say no. I replied that the instructors are now very skilled in understanding and interpreting their actions/body language/speech and knew when to cajole, encourage, praise and when to just back off.
Luke must have overheard me for he showed Mark that he can make choices and his choice was that he was not going to abseil today. In fact he was not going in the smokehouse at Westlea either and he didn’t need to use speech to make himself understood. This course is not just about completing the firefighter activities it is about so much more. They learn about teamwork, improve motor, communication and social skills. They interact with their peers, adults in authority and visitors. They spend unstructured and structured time together and are expected to look after themselves, their kit and look out for each other. One of the most important skills they learn too, I personally feel, is to say no when they are uncomfortable, are scared or feel threatened even to someone in authority. The important part of this is how they say it, the response they get and how they then deal with that response. They need to be able to keep themselves safe no matter how limited their speech and being able to say no is a very important life skill. That being said we would always do our utmost to address the reason for saying no and there are so many activities throughout the day that if one activity just defeats them we still look for the positives within that and recognise the effort, the willingness to try or the courage to admit a fear and then start the next activity with the same expectation of participation, enjoyment and achievement.
Luke’s desire to explore the station and spend time with our visitors didn’t deter any of the others from attempting the abseil and every single one of them completed an abseil either from the very top or from a lower level and each landed at the bottom with the biggest, beamiest smile. I couldn’t have been more proud of every Salamander team member today whether young person, senior crew or instructor. It takes a group effort to complete an abseil with a crew at the bottom supporting and encouraging, attaching and detaching harnesses, a crew halfway up encouraging and aiding them up the ladders and supporting as they descend and a crew at the top to check harnesses, check ropes, and support as they clamber over the top and most importantly the young person about to abseil. So it is an achievement for all when one descends and we all share in the praise and pride.
Whilst the abseil is taking place there are also three other activities to keep the other teams working. One team explored the vintage fire engine. Another team practised first aid and here we saw Abi and Phil beam with pride as each team showed how much they had remembered – CPR, recovery position and bandaging. Award for the day in First Aid goes to Lane with his Eastender’s worthy rendition of a sudden death. He performed perfect CPR and then announced that his patient had passed away. This led to histrionics that would rival any Eastender’s fan in the TV Soap Award category!
The third activity involved negotiating the smokehouse sewer pipes both vertical and horizontal. Seamus and Ryan virtually flew through the tunnels. Frazer was ace in the smokehouse and so aware of the dangers. He walked confidently through whilst moving wires and trip hazards. Sophie searched meticulously behind doors and under furniture. Callum went first in his team and then offered to help others through. Nicole was petrified of the vertical pipe but still negotiated it and came out on top. Zachary was a really good team leader in the smokehouse and looked after his team.
Then it was back to Swindon station for lunch and while Mark prepared chicken fillets, pasta plus sauce and salad with the aid of his recently acquired sous chef the rest of the team introduced themselves to the Adver photographer but told him they were too hungry to pose now so please could they eat first and then they would oblige.
Another huge quantity of food and squash laid to waste before they returned to the yard for a quick group photo and then activities designed to create photo opportunities. Our young people excel at photo opportunities and are always ready for a pose or two. One group posed with car cutting equipment, another climbed ladders, another squirted water at targets – although Nicole preferred the moving target of Mark as he had not changed into fire kit so made a much better target for the black hose than the stationary metal ones. She has such good aim!! The third group went into the smokehouse to rescue the baby and it was here that Luke decided that he would say yes and pretended there were ghosts inside before exiting through the tunnel and despite losing his boots halfway through emerged with a huge smile and limped back to the lockers to get changed with a boot full of gravel collected on his socks. Stephen helped his team through the middle tunnel and Josiah made a fantastic job of winding up the black hose. Myles, Michael and Sam just did everything they were asked with a smile. They just love being here and because of that we all love being here too.
It has been a thoroughly wet day, lunch was an hour later than usual and the activities today challenged them all but not one moan or gripe about the weather or late food as they are having far too much fun but a group of very weary young people today so early nights tonight as my very favourite day tomorrow COATE WATER!!!! Please don’t forget to send in a full set of spare clothes. We will do our utmost to ensure they stay dry in the suits but as I very rarely manage it please don’t be surprised if they get wet. Getting wet is not the problem, staying wet is so if they have spare clothes there is no problem.

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