OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was an experience one London firefighter will never forget.

After making landfall on Nov. 8, 2013, Typhoon Yolanda claimed the lives of at least 6,300 people in the Philippines alone, with bodies still being found well into the New Year.

“There’s no way it doesn’t stay with you,” said Bob Geilen. “The destruction, what was left of the city . . . everything buried under mud and debris,” he said. “But you’re there helping people and they’re just all so grateful. And you know they’re going to beat this. It’s a very humbling experience.”

Working with GlobalFire, a national charity that helps with training and disaster relief in Third World countries, Geilen has travelled to both the Philippines and Dominca, bringing aid to those in need.

Already an avid volunteer in the local community, the adventure all started when a co-worker encouraged him to join.

“He said — ‘hey this might be something you’re interested in,’ so I signed up,” Geilen remembered. “Not only did I get to go and help people during a disaster who were in desperate need of assistance, but we were able to take our skill set and help other people who may have those skills as well, but might not use them as much. Either that, or they use different equipment and different techniques.”

That first trip to Dominica in 2013 was something he’ll never forget, bringing gear and equipment, as well as training the local fire department in things like forcible entry, as well as self and water rescue.

“We landed, took a two-hour drive to their headquarters and saw the chief. They put us up in a hotel . . . but all we really needed was a bed and some food. After that we just started training,” said Geilen. “You’d be amazed at how many people from an island nation are afraid of the water and don’t know how to swim.”

That training would indeed prove to be life-saving, as just last year the island nation experienced a major flood, as well as mudslides, due to tropical storm Erika.

“The water rescue that we were showing them, and the rope bags and the wetsuits we gave them, came in very handy,” he explained. “It’s an amazing feeling to know you’ve made a difference.”

As part of GlobalFire, volunteers are responsible for pay their own flights, while money is raised to ship the gear and equipment, so there’s no funds taken from the charity, or taxpayers.

For Geilen, making the decision to help those in need abroad was as easy as giving time to his own community. It’s just the right thing to do.

“To me, everybody should give back to those who don’t have it. Be it fundraising for whatever charity, for whatever event,” he said. “I like to give back to the community, to people who need it desperately. It’s the reason I became a firefighter. I know I can directly affect the way someone’s day is going to end, if I’m there helping or if I’m raising money.”

Through it all, should the opportunity arise again, Geilen maintains he won’t hesitate to make the next trek, wherever that may be.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” he said. “If another disaster happens, I would definitely put my name in for the call.”

Source: Firefighter taking training around the world | Our London