JOB PROFILE: Firefighter
Qualifications and courses
To be considered for selection as a firefighter you must be at least 18 years old and preferably have a full UK driving licence. No formal qualifications are required, though you should have a good general standard of education and any qualifications you bring with you may help with future promotion. Some fire services specifically ask for GCSEs/National 5s (C or above, or 4 or above in England) in English and Maths. Firefighters need a reasonable level of fitness and good eyesight.
Entrance is dependent on performance in practical and written tests, including psychological tests, as well as a medical and an interview. Some colleges offer a fire service pre-recruitment course in collaboration with local fire brigades. This does not guarantee entry but aims to prepare candidates for the entrance tests. Health and safety restrictions mean that it may not be possible to do work experience as a firefighter.
As a new firefighter you will be required to undergo full-time induction training which lasts between 12 and 16 weeks (18 weeks in Northern Ireland). You will learn basic firefighting skills, fire safety and the importance of educating the public about fire safety. You may be encouraged to work towards NVQs such as the Level 3 Diploma in Emergency Fire Services Operations in the Community.
What the work involves
You will be dealing with a range of emergencies, not only fires but also helping at other incidents such as rescuing trapped animals and people, handling chemical spillages and assisting at road, rail or air crash scenes.
If your team arrives on the scene before the paramedics you will be expected to have the knowledge and practice to administer First Aid if required.
You might give advice to organisations on fire safety and check that buildings or public events meet fire regulations.
Type of person suited to this work
You will need to stay calm in dangerous situations. People in danger tend to react in extreme ways and you will need to be good at talking to them, giving instructions, reassuring them and leading them to safety.
You need to be an excellent team player. You will be assigned to a ‘watch’ (a team) and need to work together to keep yourself and others safe.
You will need to be able to deal with very stressful and disturbing situations.
You will be based at a fire station but will go out to attend incidents.
Working conditions can often be unpleasant and dangerous. You will wear a uniform and, when needed, protective clothing and equipment.
You will work an average of 42 hours per week, which will be divided into day and night shifts. You can also work as a retained firefighter which means you will be on-call. Many retained firefighters have other full-time or part-time occupations.
The main employers are regional fire services but airports, the Ministry of Defence, the RAF and the Royal Navy also recruit firefighters.
Some firefighters start their career as retained firefighters to gain experience. There are around 18,000 retained firefighters in the UK, mostly in rural areas. Entry is competitive.
You will undergo regular training throughout your career and could work towards specialising in a particular area of the services. For example you could specialise in driving fire trucks by taking a large goods vehicle (LGV) licence. Promotion to supervisory and management roles is by clear grades and given on ability, but exams must also be passed.
This job can be very stressful and you cannot just leave an emergency situation if your shift has ended.
You will get to know your watch very well; firefighters say they really enjoy the team spirit at work.
You need to pass demanding training successfully to qualify, and keep up a rigorous fitness and training schedule.
The fire service is subject to a nationally agreed salary structure. Salaries are higher in London.
Full-time firefighters can expect a salary of £22,459 as a trainee which will increase to £29,934 with experience.
Crew and watch managers can earn between £31,816 and £37,112, whilst a station manager will earn £38,602–£42,576.
With experience you may become a group manager and subsequently an area manager, and your salary will increase to £44,458 to £57,252.
Retained (on-call) firefighters earn a fee of around £2,246 to £2,993 per year. They also receive additional payments, according to their rank, for attending fires and carrying out extra duties.
Content generously provided by Indigo Trotman.