When Community Safety Officer, Tara Clarke, visits Oxfordshire residents’ homes, she might be the first person they’ve seen in four months. That’s the reality of care and safety in a COVID-19 world.
Some of the most vulnerable people in Oxfordshire rely on relatives and neighbours to check their well-being, but that support is less readily available because of social distancing. Tara has become their lifeline; and with her love for people, she is thriving in making a difference.
“I’m employed by Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue, based at Kidlington. The service is much more than fighting fires; I’m proof of that,” says Tara. “I used to work for County Council’s social and health care team on their helpdesk. One day, in 2018, I shadowed Fire and Rescue’s community safety officers. I knew it was the career for me; applied for a vacancy and never looked back.”
Tara is one of five Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Community Safety Advisors. They have visited over 100 vulnerable people in their own homes since mid-March.
The role ranges from fitting smoke alarms and giving general advice regarding fire safety, to managing more complex situations, such as assisting alcohol and drug users, and residents with mental health issues.
Tara primarily advises and supports from a health and safety perspective; but regularly works alongside other professionals including social workers, trading standards, environmental health, and housing officers.
Visiting some of the county’s most vulnerable residents is even more critical during COVID-19 lockdown. But the challenge Tara and team faces, in these unprecedented times, is how to enter homes without the risk of infection from COVID-19. They treat #Stopthespread extremely seriously.
“I’m almost unrecognisable,” says Tara. “I sometimes arrive in a respirator mask – the type firefighters use when wearing breathing apparatus is not necessary. I could also be wearing an apron, gloves and glasses. We are equipped with varying levels of PPE designed to cope with any situation we might be confronted with, such as IIR masks and face shields, and cloth face masks.
“In many cases, I hardly see the resident. They’ll stay in a separate room whilst I’m fixing their smoke alarm or removing anything that’s a fire or hygiene risk, such as piles of rubbish or rotting food. But some people are desperate for company. I am the first face they’ll have seen for months.”
Tara’s respirator mask and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are essential in her job, and although she wears a less dramatic facemask when going to the supermarket, she never lets down her guard.
“I can’t risk getting COVID-19,” says Tara. “My role involves helping others. If I had to quarantine, that would be one less person to visit vulnerable residents across Oxfordshire.
“I always remind family, friends and colleagues of the importance of regularly washing your hands, following social distancing, and wearing a face mask.
“The day when we can see people without worrying about infection can’t come soon enough. But we’ll only get there if we all follow the rules, both professionally and in our everyday lives.”