A FIREFIGHTER from the Witterings has spoken about a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’ after playing his part in the international rescue effort to save lives in Nepal.
Matt Simmons, 34, was one of the youngest members of the UK’s response team to fly out to the stricken country as part of a six-man team of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service members.
Speaking exclusively to the Observer, the father-of-two told of his part in repairing a damaged hospital so that injured people could be treated in what was his first- ever mission to a disaster area.
“It’s hard to describe really. I went out as a team of six from West Sussex and a lot of our focus was on the logistical side of the rescue, making sure the right equipment went to the right places,” said Matt, who lives in the Witterings but is stationed at Horley.
“Personally it was the first earthquake disaster I’d gone to, but the other guys have been to places like Haiti, Japan, New Zealand and Indonesia so I was with a highly experienced and trained team.”
The huge earthquake took place on Saturday, April 25, killing and injuring many thousands of people.
Matt and his team flew out the following day but with the country in disarray, they were unable to land at Kathmandu Airport so were diverted to Delhi in boardering India.
The team finally made it to the capital on the Tuesday to join the international response from 70 countries.
Matt said: “We were working from the UK Embassy in Kathmandu and a lot of the work was ferrying equipment to some of the worst affected areas where it was taking three, four, five days to get help to.
“One of the things we attended was a hospital which had seen a large brick clock tower land on its roof.
“It took two-and-a-half days to secure it so the majority of the hospital could reopen again and treat the wounded people who were waiting for operations.”
More than 7,500 people are now confirmed dead, with the figure expected to rise.
Matt said that soon after arriving the attentions of the rescuers had turned from looking for survivors to helping those who were cut off from aid.
“There were stories of people being found in the rubble but the chances of surviving after being trapped for three or four days is low,” he said.
“Rescue sightings started to scale down by Wednesday and the focus was on getting medical supplies to those who needed them.”
Matt, who was supported by his wife Kerry and two young children, said one of the biggest successes of the UK rescue effort was securing two high-tech helicopters to fly over stranded villages and relay vital information which saved many lives.
“The whole experience was a roller coaster of emotions,” Matt said.
“We had to follow protocol so you could be waiting around for hours and then suddenly be thrown into the action.
“Some of it was frustrating but now I’m home it’s easier to look back and see what a difference we made.”
Elsewhere Rupert Jones-Warner, the Chichester explorer who was stuck on Mount Everest, has returned home safe and well.