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Firefighter

Firefighters and firefighting managers tackle a wide range of emergency situations. Over recent years, the focus has turned to prevention rather than purely intervention. This means that firefighters spend an increasing amount of their time talking to the public and businesses, helping to increase the level of awareness and prevent incidents from happening in the first place.

Their work in community fire safety may involve:

  • giving talks and demonstrations to groups in the community
  • advising individuals in their homes on fire safety and conducting fire safety checks.

Their work in responding to emergencies may involve:

  • providing casualty care at road accidents and freeing people who are trapped
  • rescuing people from disasters, such as floods and rail or air crashes
  • dealing with spills of chemicals or other hazardous substances
  • putting out fires and rescuing people and animals
  • responding to bomb alerts and incidents involving biological and radioactive materials.

Firefighters may work full time (known as whole-time), or on call as retained firefighters. Retained firefighters usually combine their work in the fire and rescue service with their main job.

Whole-time firefighters work a variety of shift patterns. Retained firefighters are on call on agreed days and times.

Working conditions can be dangerous and may involve coping with extreme heat and cold, working at heights and operating in enclosed spaces.

Salaries range from at least £21,157 for whole-time firefighters to £40,109 for station managers.

A firefighter should:

  • have stamina and physical strength
  • be able to react quickly, but keep calm in hazardous situations
  • have courage, determination and resilience
  • work well in a close-knit team
  • be able to follow instructions
  • enjoy practical work.

Entry to whole-time work is very competitive. There is, however, a national shortage of retained firefighters.

The main employers are the local fire and rescue authorities. Other organisations also employ firefighters. These include the British Airports Authority and non-BAA airports, the Defence Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS), which provides fire services to military and other defence sites, and the RAF.

There are no set academic qualifications needed for entry. Applicants have to pass written and physical tests and a medical.

All entrants start as firefighters. They may to advance to crew manager, then to watch manager, station manager, area manager, group manager and finally, brigade manager. Firefighters may move into training or other departments.

 

What is the work like?

Firefighters and firefighting managers tackle a wide range of emergency situations, from controlling fires and rescuing people from burning buildings, to dealing with chemical spills and road traffic collisions.

Over recent years, the focus has turned to prevention rather than purely intervention. This means that firefighters spend an increasing amount of their time talking to the public and businesses, helping to increase the level of awareness and prevent incidents from happening in the first place.

The work of a firefighter or firefighting manager in community fire safety may involve:

  • giving talks and demonstrations to groups in the community
  • advising individuals in their homes on fire safety and conducting fire safety checks
  • inspecting premises, such as factories, hotels and shops, to make sure they meet fire safety requirements
  • working with children and young people involved in fire-related crime and antisocial behaviour
  • advising organisations, such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools, on fire safety.

Their work in responding to emergencies may involve:

  • providing casualty care at road accidents and freeing people who are trapped
  • attending life-threatening medical emergencies under the co-responder scheme with the Ambulance Service
  • rescuing people from disasters, such as floods and rail or air crashes
  • dealing with spills of chemicals or other hazardous substances
  • putting out fires and rescuing people and animals
  • responding to bomb alerts and incidents involving biological and radioactive materials.

They are likely to be involved in routine station duties, which may include:

  • inspecting, cleaning and maintaining appliances (fire engines) and equipment
  • carrying out practice drills
  • physical training
  • learning new information and techniques.

Senior managers only attend major incidents, which are very rare. Their work focuses on management and policy.

Firefighters work with appliances, which carry a wide range of equipment, including axes, hoses, ropes, cutting equipment, ladders and lifting gear. Firefighters also use equipment, such as portable breathing appliances, personal radio sets and thermal imaging cameras to help locate victims. In dealing with injured people, firefighters use first aid techniques.

Firefighters may work full time (known as whole-time) or be on call as retained firefighters. Retained firefighters usually combine their work in the fire and rescue service with another, main job.

Hours and environment

Whole-time firefighters work a variety of shift patterns, including day and night shifts, as well as weekend and bank holiday work. Retained firefighters are on call on agreed days and times.

Whole-time firefighters spend most of their time at the fire station, maintaining the equipment, training and carrying out routine office work.

Working conditions can involve:

  • extreme heat and cold
  • working at heights
  • working in enclosed spaces
  • entering smoke-filled buildings
  • working in all weather conditions
  • exposure to danger from collapsing buildings, vehicle fumes and explosions.
  • Firefighters wear protective clothing and a helmet. They may also wear special protective suits and breathing apparatus, depending on the nature of the incident.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Whole-time firefighters earn at least £21,157 a year on entry, rising to £28,199 a year.
  • Crew managers earn between £29,971 and £31,263.
  • Station managers earn between £36,365 and £40,109.

Firefighters working in London are paid extra.

Retained firefighters are generally paid an annual fee (a retainer) of between £2,116 and £4,012, plus a turn-out fee for each emergency attended. They are also paid for training sessions and for duties such as equipment maintenance.

Skills and personal qualities

A firefighter should:

  • have stamina and physical strength
  • be able to react quickly, but keep calm in hazardous situations
  • have courage, determination and resilience
  • work well as a member of a close-knit team
  • be able to follow instructions
  • be good at problem solving
  • have a high level of personal discipline
  • be sensitive with people who are distressed
  • have good practical skills
  • have strong communication skills
  • be assertive
  • be able to inspire confidence when dealing with members of the public.

Interests

It is important to:

  • enjoy practical work
  • have an interest in the welfare of the community.

Getting in

The main employers of firefighters in England are the 45 fire and rescue authorities. They employ just over 30,000 whole-time firefighters and 11,900 retained firefighters, based at 2,111 fire stations.

There is a high level of competition for entry to whole-time work, with many more applicants than vacancies. There is, however, a national shortage of retained firefighters.

Other organisations employ firefighters. These include:

  • the British Airports Authority (BAA), which provides fire brigades at its six airports
  • the Defence Fire and Rescue Service (DFRS), which provides fire services to military and other defence sites
  • non-BAA airports and some large private organisations which have their own fire services
  • the RAF - see the article Royal Air Force (RAF) Airman/Woman for more information.

Entry routes

There are no set academic qualifications for entry, although many applicants have GCSEs or other qualifications. The Diploma in public services may be useful. Most applicants have had experience of other types of work.

Applicants must pass tests in:

  • basic maths calculations
  • understanding and interpreting written information
  • situational awareness and problem solving.

They also complete a questionnaire designed to assess personal qualities and attributes, and attend an interview.

Candidates also undergo a series of physical tests.

Applicants need good eyesight, though some services will allow glasses or contact lenses. They also need normal colour vision, although slightly abnormal green colour vision may be acceptable. Some services require a full driving licence.

Some services have graduate recruitment programmes open to applicants with a degree in any subject. Their training is identical to that of other entrants but after training they are fast tracked.

Training

Full-time induction training for whole-time firefighters usually takes place at a central training centre for between 12 and 20 weeks. Training includes:

  • fire behaviour and basic firefighting rescue techniques
  • using protective clothing, including breathing apparatus
  • entering smoke-filled rooms
  • using foam and other fire extinguishing products
  • using ladders, hoses, knots, hydraulic and other equipment
  • first aid.

Trainees also learn how to deal with road traffic accidents and incidents involving chemicals, as well as biological, radiological and nuclear materials.

After completing the induction training, entrants join a fire station for a probationary period of up to two years, learning from experienced firefighters. During this time, their performance is continually assessed.

Firefighters in some services are encouraged to work towards NVQs and other qualifications. These may include:

  • NVQ Level 3 in fire and rescue sector control operations, in emergency fire services watch management or operations in the community
  • BTEC Level 2 Award, Certificate and Diploma in fire and rescue services in the community
  • BTEC Level 3 Certificate in emergency fire services operations in the community.

Some firefighters may gain specialised qualifications, eg a large goods vehicle (LGV) licence for driving fire engines.

Retained firefighters undertake induction training over a series of weekends and attend weekly practice drill nights. They learn the same procedures and techniques as whole-time firefighters.

Getting on

All entrants start as firefighters. Advancement is possible to crew manager, then to watch manager, station manager, area manager, group manager and finally, brigade manager. Promotions are decided by tests and demonstrations of potential.

Several fire services are piloting a fast track scheme for some operational staff and a small number of trainee firefighters. It is an intensive development programme designed to help people who show great promise to reach station manager level within about four years.

Firefighters may move into training or other departments.

Further information

British Airports Authority (BAA). 0141 585 6000. Website: www.baa.com

Defence Fire & Rescue Services Headquarters, Ramillies Building, Floor 1, Zone 8, IDL419, Marlborough Lines, Monxton Road, Andover, Hampshire SP11 8HJ. 01264 381413.

Fire and Rescue Service - www.extraordinary.direct.gov.uk

 

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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