Essex County Fire and Rescue Service


Firebreak partnership with Down Syndrome charity reaches tenth anniversary

Celebrations are in order after our Firebreak partnership with charity Down Syndrome Extra 21 turned 10 years old.

The programme is the first of its type to meet the complex physical and mental needs of the group the charity supports.

The week-long programme has now been delivered to hundreds of young people and adults with Down Syndrome and has helped to make them more independent – by teaching them safe and independent living skills, what to do in an emergency, how to report a fire and basic first aid.

Participants of the course all live with Down Syndrome and take part in a range of challenging tasks to build their confidence, including using powerful hose reels, climbing ladders and wearing specialist breathing apparatus while rescuing dummy ‘people’ trapped in smoke logged buildings and rooms.

The partnership was established in 2008 after the Firebreak programme identified the need for home safety advice to young people and adults with Down Syndrome – and ensured the course was designed in order to deliver key messages in a creative and engaging way.

Donna Finch MBE, our Community Development and Safeguarding Manager, said: “This partnership has helped to build the confidence of young people to live safe independent lives and increase their self-esteem by creating an environment where they can demonstrate their extensive abilities.”

“Working alongside Extra 21 Down Syndrome over the last ten years has been a truly rewarding experience for everyone involved. Seeing these young people and adults develop during and after Firebreak programmes is incredibly rewarding for all involved. We are all very proud to have been a part of the design of this course and to share our learning with national and international parties.”

As part of a ceremony to celebrate the latest group to complete the course, known as a ‘Pass Out’, Donna was also officially named as a patron of the charity.

Greg Stuttle, Chair of Down Syndrome Extra 21, said: “We’d like to thank Donna and everyone at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service for the incredible support they have shown to our charity and the people who have attended over the last decade”.

“We named Donna as a charity patron to demonstrate our gratitude for the opportunities she has helped to create for us. Our young people and adults complete the Firebreak courses feeling truly inspired and I know their parents and guardians genuinely enjoy seeing what they’re capable of.”

More than 5,000 people have now taken part in a Firebreak course, which was initially run in response to anti-social behaviour of young people – specifically in the form of hoax calls.

The accredited course has seen significant development over the years and is now used not only to address key strategic outcomes for a huge number of partner agencies, but to also work with professionals with regards to critical thinking skills. Working alongside specially trained firefighter mentors, 12 students are taught demanding operational drills and a variety of life skills; developing their communication, self-confidence and discipline while being peer mentored on specific subject areas by the team. The students then have the opportunity to showcase what they have learnt to parents, guardians, friends and family at the end of the course.

Click here to learn more about our Firebreak programme.

You can also find out more about Down Syndrome Extra 21 by visiting their website.


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