Give that man a medal!

FBU member Tommy Richardson, whose work on water safety won him royal recognition this summer, is better able to support colleagues and members of the public involved in emergency incidents after completing a mental health course through his union.

FBU member Tommy Richardson receiving his award
FBU member Tommy Richardson receiving his award

As a firefighter who’s battled blazing buildings and fast-moving floods, Tommy knows how any loss of life leaves its mark on colleagues in the Tyneside Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and family and friends of the victim alike.

So when he heard about a mental health awareness course available through FBU Learning, he knew he wanted to enrol, even though he hadn’t been in a learning environment since joining the fire service 15 years ago.

Tommy explained:

It was a bit daunting considering taking up this opportunity but once I had contacted (Region 4 Project Support Organiser) Ian Dick and we met to discuss further what was involved, I felt encouraged by what he told me and I agreed to sign up.”

When Tommy started the four-month course last September, he found that having a month to complete each of the four separate modules worked well, as he could fit his study around his duty hours and put in time at home as well.

Tommy says:

I found the process to be simple and very easy to understand, with very supportive and knowledgeable representations from FBU Learning that I was able to contact any time either by telephone or via email, Teresa Steventon and Tracy Lillico.”

Through the course, Tommy has gained greater understanding and empathy with members of the public he interacts with at incidents and is better able to support his own colleagues both at incidents themselves and in their aftermath.

Since completing the course earlier this year, Tommy has progressed to taking a two-day Mental Health First Aid course through an external provider and is now very interested in training to be a Mental Health Awareness Instructor for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS).

And he says he would never have considered either course had he not enrolled on the first through FBU Learning. And thanks to the FBU’s learning offer to family and friends of members, Tommy’s wife Julie has recently completed the Understanding Autism course and is looking forward to enrolling soon on the Children’s Mental Health Course.

In recognition of his sterling work in promoting water safety, Tommy was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace this summer.

Tommy said:

All of the work which I have undertaken and delivered in water safety has always been done with the aim of reducing both incidents and fatalities in open water and never with the aims of receiving awards or recognition.”

To have been awarded something as prestigious as the Queen’s Fire Service Medal is so humbling and makes me ever more determined to carry on.”

This story first appeared in the Autumn 2019 Learning Rep.