What made you decide to embark on a career in the Fire Service?
I graduated from university knowing that I wanted a job that offered a challenge, both physical and mental, coupled with work that was beneficial to society. I was attracted both to a career in the military and the emergency services, the more I considered my options the more I realised that the Fire Service was a good fit for my aspirations. I applied and was accepted as a wholetime fire fighter in 2002 and I subsequently joined Surrey as an on call fire fighter in 2006 as well.
I love my dual careers within the service, it is important to me that we are there to serve the public at times of crisis and that we strive to make the best of challenging circumstances. Working to help people in my community has given me a great sense of satisfaction. The fire service has provided me with some unforgettable experiences and some excellent friendships.
What support was given to you to help you with the application process?
The process of applying to join the Fire Service is lengthy. A great deal of public money is invested in selecting and training fire fighters and it is right that we choose the best candidates for the role. Having said that there is support available to assist you in your journey. There is a lot of information available online, you should do as much research as possible about the role and also build your knowledge of Surrey and its residents.
You should learn about the service and think carefully about your reasons for applying and the qualities that you possess that make you the best candidate for the job. When I applied I approached my local fire station and asked for some advice. This gave me some valuable insights and was time well spent. Finally you should practice your interview technique with friends and family so that you are ready for the big day.
Did you have any misconceptions when joining the Fire Service?
When I joined the Fire Service I wasn't sure how I'd meet the challenges of both the physical and emotional side of the job, would I be able to cope with seeing trauma first hand? Would I really have what it takes? As a man there's misconception that you have to face the hard times and deal with them on your own. The reality is that Watches are very tightly knit communities and you support your colleagues as they support you. This is very much a team environment and a debrief over a cup of tea goes a long way. The training I had prepared me for the practical side of work, but Fire Station life is as much focused on prevention and education and it is worth bearing that in mind as you progress through the application process.
When you joined the Fire Service did you feel you were encouraged to develop and progress in your career?
After I joined I was very much encouraged to progress my career. There is a structured pathway with a great deal of training and development opportunities available along the way. Once I had completed my probation and development I was encouraged by my managers to extend my skills, first as a driver then as a supervisory officer.
There are lots of different types of training available, depending on what you are interested in. These range from practical training using specialist vehicles such as aerial appliances, off road vehicles to working at height and water rescue. There is access to management training, health and safety qualifications, technical fire safety, educational training and more through the Fire Service and Surrey County Council. There is a high level of trade's union membership within the Fire Service and as a union representative I have benefitted from support and training opportunities from the Fire Brigade Union as well.
What support and training is available?
The firefighter's recruit course will teach you the skills you need to operate safely at fires, road traffic collisions and rescues from height. You'll also receive training in hazmat, casualty care and all the supporting theory. When you are posted to a fire station you will begin a formal development period which will see you consolidate your learning and put your new skills into practice. During this time you will be assigned a mentor and you will build the relationships that are the foundation of your career.
Generally you will work on one station with the same Watch. There are four Watches covering each station, red, white blue and green. There are occasions when you will need to do out duties at other stations. It's useful to own a car!
As a firefighter, how would you describe your typical day?
A typical day on a fire station will start with a parade, where duties are detailed by the officer in charge. Once this is complete fire kit goes on the pump and we check our breathing apparatus sets. This is usually followed by a cup of tea, then training in the yard. In the afternoon there is community safety work to be carried out, this includes safe and well visits to people's homes, school visits and risk inspections (information gathering at businesses and other fire risks).
There is also time each day for physical fitness training as there is an expectation on you to maintain your physical wellbeing. Mixed into all of this is the administrative work of running a fire station, so we need colleagues that can contribute to the less glamorous work too. A good deal of your time will be spent developing your skills, your manager will guide you, but we expect you to drive your own development.
It goes without saying that all of this is stops when a call comes in. You will face a variety of shouts, from technical rescues and wildfires to flooding and house fires at three o'clock in the morning. It's often a challenge and we need team workers with cool heads, common sense and practical skills. Having said that, it's worth mentioning that we don't just need muscle. Incidents are resolved with rational thinking and hard work.
I understand that firefighters work a shift pattern, how do you maintain a work-like balance?
The current wholetime shift pattern in Surrey Fire & Rescue Service is two day shifts of nine hours followed by two fifteen hour night shifts and three and a half days off. We also operate a variable crewing system that works forty two hours over four week days per seven days. I have always found that working shifts suits me well. I love the fact that on my days off I can be around to take my children to school and that I can see more of my family during the school holidays. However the flip side of the coin is that it is hard to leave a summer barbeque to go on to a night shift. But that's the choice you are making when you choose a career in the Fire Service.
Do you get to choose which fire station you work at or are you recruited to a pool?
It is worth noting that when you sign up you agree to serve at any station in the County. Having said that when I joined we were asked to pick our top three preferred stations and the Service allocated us to vacancies as best they could. You may not get your dream station, to me at the time it was more important that I had passed out from my recruits course and got a job. There is always the possibility of a station transfer later on, but I know people that were posted, loved it, and have spent their whole careers on one station.
What can you see are the benefits of joining Surrey Fire and Rescue Service?
For me the biggest benefits are the training and skills that the job provides you plus the knowledge that you are a part of an organisation that is a force for good in society. I look back with pride on incidents I have attended with my watches knowing that we did everything we could to make bad situations right. Equally it brings me great joy that when we drive down the road people often smile and wave. We have an enviable reputation, and I always feel proud when people ask me what I do for a living and I can reply that I'm a firefighter.