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999 CALL-OUT TO SERBIA! It was a little longer than most firefighters' normal emergency call-outs - a 1,500-mile lifesaving dash to Eastern Europe, and Wendy Horton was with them.

MOST emergency trips do not take five days, cross seven countries and start and finish with the cheers of supporters.

Yet the mission to take six old fire engines from South Wales to Serbia to supplement the Eastern European nation's firefighting force was no ordinary 999 call.

The team of 16 drivers included four women, two of whom, Michaella Cooper and Rebecca Jones, had only passed their tests a fewweeks earlier thanks to sponsorship from Big Wheelers Ltd of Cardiff. The other female drivers were Sharon Mock, a retained firefighter based at Caerphilly who was accompanied on the trip by firefighting husband Phil, based at RAF St Athan, and full-time firefighter Jenny Rogers.

Most of my first day was spent in the GE Aviation Wales truck along with Gregg Thorpe, who was instrumental in gaining pounds 2,500 sponsorship from the Nantgawrbased firm, near Caerphilly, where he works.

Gregg was joined by his father Steve, who also works for GE but is a retained fire fighter at Rhymney Fire Station.

Steve, 52, was joined by his friend and colleague Mike Davies, another retained firefighter based in Rhymney and who lives in Princetown on the edge of Tredegar.

Mike, 52, was responsible for gaining sponsorship from his employers Priory health group.

He said: "I was looking for a good cause as well as an adventure.

I've really enjoyed it, it's good fun and I've met some fantastic people along the way."

Our first day, to Calais, was smooth, and from there we drove to Koblenz where we received a blue light escort into the city by local firefighters who waved us off towards Passau the next morning.

In Passau, we met two team members - Police Inspector Kevin Short and Steve Kitchin, from sponsors QDL Contractors Ltd - who had flown out to join the convoy.

We were met on the Austrian border by their fire service who escorted us through to Hungary.

In Budapest Dr Patric Lausch of the Hungarian emergency services met us in the city centre and was the most fantastic host.

The next day we were held up at border controls for almost three hours, despite having the necessary paperwork and having been met at the border by some of Serbia's top fire chiefs. It meant we were running late to reach our destination, Ruma fire station, so with permission from their fire service we used our lights and siren running through red lights as police blocked off roads along our route.

As we blazed through small towns and villages I sat in the back of the QDL truck alongside cameraman Ifan Tomos who captured the excitement for an ITV Wales this Week documentary with news reporter Nicola Hendy.

We reached Ruma fire station and were given a warm welcome, including family, colleagues and members of Caerphilly scouts who had flown ahead to greet us.

We handed over our six trucks at Ruma fire station and Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic thanked the South Wales team.

Tim Pedrick, a fire service station manager who lives in Ystrad Mynach and who plotted the journey, said: "They have limited firefighting equipment so they will greatly benefit from the project."

FIVE-DAY JOURNEY* Day 1 Caerphilly to Folkestone and on to Calais, France, via Le Shuttle - 243 miles.

Day 2 Calais to Koblenz in Germany - 336 miles.

Day 3 Koblenz to Passau in Germany - 345 miles.

Day 4 Passau to Budapest in Hungary 360 - miles.

Day 5 Budapest to Ruma in Serbia - 230 miles. * Total: 1,514 miles


* The team enters Serbia after a delay at border control Fire engines in line in the German corner in Koblenz * The long journey takes its toll on the young firefighters Fuelling up while on their way to Folkstone * Off to Serbia - the team before setting off from Caerphilly castle
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 3, 2011
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