International Volunteer Day: the Red Cross in Florence, between innovation in procedures and the response to the Ukraine Emergency

The International Volunteer Day gave us, among other things, the opportunity and the privilege to get to know better the Red Cross in an important city like Florence

Essential activities to be carried out in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with the needs of its citizens combining with those of a demanding mass of tourists and with the preservation of artistic and architectural heritage which, despite themselves, do not always facilitate the rhythm and needs of a ‘code red’.

In all this, a city that is experiencing the Ukrainian emergency as a protagonist, with the desire for welcome and inclusion that is characterising our country in general.

A complex situation, therefore, which is explained to us by Iario Frabri, director of the Florentine Red Cross Committee.

A World Volunteer Day that coincides, in terms of time, with a winter characterised by the Ukraine emergency. On your site, the national CRI’s search for temporary volunteers stands out: would you like to tell us about it?

“We were called upon to respond to a whole series of appeals, linked to this type of emergency, both with regard to the arrival, especially immediately after the outbreak of the emergency, of people, citizens, children, and women who had also arrived in the city of Florence, who needed initial reception, but also to support linked to specific needs such as identification, help with integration in reception facilities, and in all those steps that are essentially bureaucratic but which are also particularly complex for those who arrive in a foreign country and clearly do not know all the various aspects.

Therefore, in collaboration with the Region of Tuscany but also with the health authority and the other bodies involved, we have tried to provide support, also linking it with another emergency, which is the Covid emergency.

So the whole part of testing, of monitoring: for example, reception in facilities that needed a negative buffer.

Red Cross Florence has used all its network set up for this type of emergency also for the one related to the reception of Ukrainian refugees.

The commitment was great, and still is, because thanks also to the synergy we have with the Kennedy Foundation and its structure, we are hosting families, whom we assist every day, together with the Municipality of Florence”.

The reception of refugees, to stay on topic: would you like to explain to our readers what the census of temporary accommodation consists of and how it works?

We are trying to accommodate families in a comprehensive manner, i.e. without dividing them up and trying to create the most comfortable environment possible by also exploiting partnerships with private individuals.

Some of them have also contacted the Red Cross for a matter of affiliation, of the need for support from an organisation like ours, to offer us the free transfer for a period of time of flats that were vacant at that time.

The need for well-managed housing, in synergy with Ikea, which then donated us the furniture, and with other parties, allowed us to create temporary, stable and ‘complete package’ situations, therefore with health care, Italian courses, help with the administrative and bureaucratic aspects, finding a job, and continuing our studies.

We therefore tried to meet the needs that came from the area.

Being a volunteer with the Florence CRI: how does one become one, and what activities can one carry out in the Florence area?

Normally, we have a procedure whereby an application is made for the first course, which is followed by a series of other training courses, depending on the type of path the volunteer intends to take.

The ‘temporary volunteer’ has allowed a lot of people to approach our Committee during the Covid period.

We are about 1,200 volunteers in Florence, but we have about 800 waiting to do the first course.

This is a figure that makes one reflect positively.

Let’s talk about Civil Protection: what activities do you carry out in disaster management?

Our Emergencies Area is also active in small emergencies, if we want to call them that: attention to a weather alert, rather than to the control of a flood, rather than to the monitoring of snow-related situations or other, are all activities that we carry out on a daily basis, with great expectation even from the mayors of the area.

For major emergencies we are always present, everywhere. We were also pre-alerted for the emergency in Ischia, naturally through the regulated mechanism of the national civil protection system.

We invest, for example in the last year, in new means and technologies, and this puts us in a position to work on any type of emergency”.

I have noticed that as the Florence Red Cross you also have a Canine Unit, which few actually have: how many volunteers and how many dogs are dedicated to it?

Right now we have thirteen pairs, trained and adequately trained to respond to those rescue requests involving the canine unit.

Ambulances: I guess this is the largest volunteer sector. Would you tell us about this sector and the tasks you perform for the Florentine population?

Red Cross is identified with the ambulance station, so we provide a 24-hour service for the local 118 network, and we are active in all related routes.

We also did a sort of pseudo-emergency during the covid period when the local health authority was unable to intervene with its own Usca and auto-medics in all the situations reported with cases present.

We also constantly try to bring innovations, designs, experiences.

The latest one, I can mention, was the one conducted with Piaggio regarding a recent three-wheeled motorbike model that was tested, after sharing with the 118 of Tuscany, the Region of Tuscany and the Azienda USL Toscana Centro, and also experiences with our Israeli friends, who had many opportunities to test this type of intervention.

We had a vehicle for a period of time being tested by Piaggio, which allowed us to be able to use this new vehicle for medical rescue even in somewhat unusual situations.

Florence is a traumatic city in terms of medical interventions. Almost every day we find ourselves, even on ordinary services, checking the metres of the roads to see if we can pass with one vehicle rather than another.

Traffic in itself is something limiting, so the experimentation that we have activated for some situations, Pitti Immagine springs to mind, rather than concerts at the Visarno, has allowed us to test this opportunity and we intend to test it in order to bring something new to this area as well.


On World Volunteer Day, what wish would you like to extend to your fellow workers and volunteers in general?

On a daily basis I witness realities and people who approach out of curiosity, others approach almost out of necessity, and then fall in love, and begin this journey with volunteering.

I used to do a different kind of activity, and then I entered this dimension: I think that if I could fall in love with it, many others probably could.

I really wish everyone to be able to find those five minutes to look at this family because it is really worth it.

Interview with Ilario Fabri, Director of the Red Cross – Florence Committee

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