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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April 2004, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Helping Iraq's firefighters
By Dickon Hooper
BBC News Online, Wiltshire

Firefighting in Iraq is a desperate business - men dressed in sandals and boiler suits sustaining horrific injuries.

That is the experience of Brian Joyce from Devizes, Wiltshire, a UK firefighter for 34 years.

He has just returned from the country after helping distribute state-of the-art firefighting equipment to local crews.

Mr Joyce, 53, travelled to Baghdad last October to visit the fledgling Iraqi trade union movement.

He returned this month with a photo journalist and more than 500 firefighting kits, donated from brigades around the UK.

"It is surreal. The people on the streets of Basra are trying to get on with their lives as normal," he told BBC News Online.

Fellow firefighters are fellow firefighters, there is a bond there - we do the same job and take the same risks
Brian Joyce

"And yet there is gunfire and explosions.

"One night I was there, insurgents dressed as the civil police entered the hotel and kidnapped a US businessman.

"Basra is in desperate poverty. Workplaces are closed and there are no means of support. The smell near the river is appalling and the rubbish is piled 10 ft high in the streets."

Told that a renewed trip to Baghdad was "too dangerous", Mr Joyce spent less than two days in Basra - before being told, again, that it was too dangerous for him to stay.

"I was there to work with the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.

"In 2003, these people wanted free and democratic unions and we went to forge links.

"Fellow firefighters are fellow firefighters - there is a bond there. We do the same job and take the same risks.

"They asked us to come back and we promised to do that."

The donated kits, costing between 4,000 and 5,000 to ship out, include helmets, tunics and boots.

"We met the firefighters again and explained how the kit worked.

"The reaction was amazing. In a small way we have given them hope.

"I would like to go back. The people need help and they need hope. There is a role, however small and insignificant, for us there. It was a very humbling experience."

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