2024 Winner

John Aitchison

 

Firefighter was so moved by the plight of earthquake victims in Nepal, he returned to provide aid and set up Everest’s first fire and rescue service

John was deployed to Nepal immediately after the earthquake in 2015, as part of UKISAR, the British Government’s international search and rescue team. He had been at natural disasters all over the world, but nothing prepared him for what he saw in Nepal, where more than 9,000 people died and 25,000 were injured. After returning home to Gourdon, Aberdeenshire, John was so deeply moved he vowed to go back. Since 2015 he has made multiple trips to Nepal, taking repurposed fire kit and humanitarian aid as well as training local emergency responders.

Earlier this year, the dad of two, who spends his free time fundraising for Nepal, went back to formalise the foundation of Everest Fire and Rescue Service which he helped set up. It is the first fire and rescue service at the airstrip serving the world’s highest peak, where 50 flights land and take off daily in difficult conditions. Last February John was on the ground after the earthquake in Turkey which claimed more than 50,000 lives. He also helps firefighters in Scotland as a peer support for mental health within the SFRS. He said: “I now talk openly about my mental health and experiences with PTSD in the hope I can help other firefighters who are struggling realise it’s okay not to be okay.”

John added: “The earthquake in Nepal changed me forever.  It had a huge psychological impact as I felt frustrated I could not have done more. I vowed to return to try to make a difference. Equipping and training the Nepalese people to deal with massive disasters has been my therapy.”