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Friday, 30 November 2007, 00:59 GMT
Providing support after the fire

By Clifford Thompson
BBC News

The funeral is taking place of one of four firefighters killed in a warehouse blaze in Warwickshire on 2 November. What help and support is available to families after such tragedies?

The deaths of John Averis, Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley and Ian Reid bring the total number of firefighters to die in the UK to more than 2,000, according to the Firefighters' Memorial Charitable Trust, which has figures dating back to 1723.

The trust has a permanent memorial close to St Paul's Cathedral where it honours the lives of more than 1,000 men and women of the National, and Auxiliary Fire Service, many of whom were killed at the height of the Blitz, in World War II.

It was that massive loss of firefighters' lives which led to the establishment of a charity to support those widowed and orphaned.

The Fire Services National Benevolent Fund (FSNBF) was formed in 1943 to help serving and retired members of the fire service by offering practical support, which extends to close family.

It is one of the bodies - along with the individual fire and rescue services and the Fire Brigades Union - which ensure that those injured, or the families of those killed while serving, have their needs looked after.

The FSNBF's head office is in Hampshire. It has centres in Devon and Cumbria that offer physiotherapy and recuperation, and a third in Littlehampton solely for recuperation.

The fund provides care for the families of firefighters who have died on duty, or while travelling to and from work.

Carrie Donohue looks after beneficiaries. She says: "The helpline service exists to offer advice, to listen and to give support tailored to the individual."

The fund makes an immediate cash payment to assist the family when a firefighter is killed on duty to help with initial financial hardship.

My job is to establish a link with the firefighters
Canon David Capron, Fire Service Chaplain

It then keeps in touch with the family through local representatives - usually firefighters who volunteer to help the fund.

The FSNBF helps around 11,000 people a year and costs £9m annually to fund. A child orphaned by a firefighter's death will receive help until the age of 18.

Legal services

The Fire Brigades Union also provides help to families of deceased members; the union says about 95% of firefighters are union members. It is not a charity, but does have an accident and injury compensation scheme that pays out 100% of a firefighter's salary if killed on duty.

It recognises that subsequent claims for compensation may also require the union's assistance and legal services.

The FBU's scheme also pays 20% of the firefighter's salary to every dependent child of a firefighter killed on duty.

Fire and rescue services invariably make use of chaplains. Canon David Capron is the chaplain for Warwickshire.

He meets once a year with colleagues at the Fire Service College under the umbrella of the National Association of Fire and Rescue Service Chaplains.

Chaplains are informed when a firefighter is killed on duty and, in Canon Capron's case, he went straight to Alcester fire station to provide comfort and support to those affected by the deaths in Warwickshire.

He is determined to introduce a prayer card that could be sent to loved ones, but he says his main job is to "establish a link with the firefighters", and help with planning a ceremonial funeral if required.

Warwickshire Fire Service says that more than 5,000 people have signed its online book of condolence, and the fund to help the families has raised more than £100,000.