A fire and rescue service volunteer who won an award for his work supporting the public in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena terror attack, is calling for more people to join the service.
Andre Felix, 32 is joining a recruitment campaign to encourage more volunteers to join Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service’ volunteers team in Trafford, at a fun day to be held at Stretford Mall on Friday, June 8.
Andre was one of six GMF&RS volunteers who were honoured by fire service bosses in recognition of their work managing crowds of people who turned out to lay wreaths at St Anne’s Square, in memory of those who were killed at the Ariana Grande concert last May 22.
He will be joined at Stretford Mall by fellow GMF&RS volunteers, who will bring along a decommissioned fire engine which plays music and blows bubbles from hoses, for children to play on.
The aim of the day is to enable families to have a fun day out at the shopping centre, while also raising awareness of the valuable work done by GMF&RS volunteers, often in the face of difficult circumstances.
Twenty-two people, some of them children, died at the hands of suicide bomber Salman Albedi in the attack at Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017. More than 500 people were hurt in the atrocity, some suffering life-changing injuries.
“It was impossible not to feel sympathy for the grieving people,” said Andre. “The suicide bombing was a shocking incident and I felt I had to do everything possible to help families, relatives and friends mourning in its wake.
“People formed long queues at St Anne’s Square to lay down wreaths and commemorative balloons and candles in scenes I will never forget. It was impossible not be touched emotionally.”
So dedicated to his role is Andre that he volunteered a staggering 365 hours in between March and December 2017, says Luke Rees, volunteer co-ordinator for the Trafford area with GMFRS.
“We currently have 288 volunteers with people coming and going constantly,” said Luke. “In the last year our volunteers have given a total of 33,000 hours and we have a target of 40,000 hours.”
June 8 marks the end of National Volunteer Week and Luke along with volunteers including Andre and full time firefighters will use their eye-catching decommissioned fire engine to promote the advantages of being involved with the Fire and Rescue Service.
Also there will be the GMFRS official mascot – Cracker the dog, a fun character who is loosely based on a Doberman.
“The decommissioned engine is a fun way of getting people involved,” said Luke. “It can play music and blow bubbles. Kids have a great time pretending they are firefighters.
“And we can guarantee that Cracker the dog doesn’t bite. He’s a very friendly mascot.”
The fire engine will be set up before Stretford Mall stores open on Friday June 8, and the fun will last until the end of the day.
Luke said the opportunities for GMFRS volunteers are endless, whether they are looking to meet new people, develop their skills, improve their CV or build on their knowledge.
“Being a volunteer with one of the largest fire and rescue services could be for you,” he said.
“Volunteers have a very flexible role, ranging from attending community events to give fire prevention tips to going on training courses relevant to their volunteering role.
“We also have our volunteer cadets for children aged 11 to 16 in which youngsters have the chance to learn life skills. They also have the opportunity to gain recognised qualifications.”
Stretford Mall shopping centre manager Gareth Wilkins said: “We’re looking forward to supporting the service in its quest to recruit more volunteers, while also having a fantastic fun day on June 8.”
Andre, who lives in Salford, is quick to point out the benefits his volunteering role has given him.
He initially moved to London from the Algarve in Portugal in 2013, and worked his way up to being a section manager at one of the capital’s Marks and Spencer department stores.
He asked for a transfer to Manchester and has been a Fire and Rescue volunteer with the Greater Manchester Service for two years.
His ambition is to be a full-time firefighter with the eventual aim of being a member of the overseas search and rescue team to help people faced by crises worldwide.
“I feel my purpose is to help people affected by either conflict or natural disasters,” says Andre, also involved with the Save the Children and Shelter charities in Manchester and Portugal. “So my goal was to break into the humanitarian and emergencies sector.
“Initially I applied for the events and campaigns role and later I applied for the survival academy and fire cadets so I have been doing a lot.
“I have attended events across Greater Manchester to promote community safety.
“I have worked alongside volunteers, staff, firefighters and other partner agencies to support community talks and presentations, career events, recruitment promotions, Prince’s Trust awards evenings, parades and ‘heartstart’ sessions.”
Andre’s day job is as a field sales account manager with Lebara Mobile and visits businesses across Manchester to try and build new relationships and maintain existing ones.
“Volunteering with GMFRS helps me improve those relationships because I can give useful information to business owners about the services GMFRS can provide and also give fire safety advice in the premises of the businesses,” he said.
To learn more about being a GMFRS volunteer go to www.manchesterfire.gov.uk/join-us/become_a_volunteer/volunteer-profiles/
To find out more about Stretford Mall visit www.stretfordmall.com or find @stretfordmall on Facebook or Twitter.