Firefighters protect and save people and property from fire and other hazards. This involves the provision of practical emergency services and of advice and education on fire prevention.
Emergency services provided by firefighters include controlling and extinguishing fires, rescuing victims from burning buildings, other accident sites or dangerous situations, and dealing with bomb alerts and spillage of chemicals or other hazardous substances.
Fire prevention work includes giving presentations to schools and other community groups, inspecting premises to ensure that they meet fire safety regulations, and liaising with construction professionals to give fire safety guidance before and during the construction of a building.
Routine station duties include inspecting, cleaning and maintaining equipment, carrying out practice drills and taking part in training. Senior officers write detailed reports of incidents and carry out management and policy work.
The work may be full-time or part-time ‘retained’. Full-time firefighters work 42 hours a week. This includes day and night shifts in order to provide a 24-hour service. Overtime may be available. Retained firefighters usually cover rural areas and small towns, and generally have another job but make themselves available to attend emergency situations.
The work is stressful, physically demanding and often very uncomfortable. Conditions can be hazardous, involving extreme heat and cold, working at heights, in enclosed spaces, and in smoke-filled buildings. All-weather work and exposure to danger from collapsing buildings, vehicle fumes and explosions are all part of the job. Protective clothing and breathing apparatus is worn. Firefighters carry heavy and awkward equipment.
To be a firefighter you will need:
Most firefighters work for local fire brigades. There are 58 brigades in England and Wales, eight in Scotland. In Northern Ireland the Fire Authority oversees four commands (North, South, East and West). There is fierce competition for full-time work and many more applicants than vacancies. There is almost always a national shortage of retained firefighters, especially in small towns and rural areas.
Other separate fire services include the British Airports Authority, which provides fire brigades at airports, and the Defence Fire Service, which provides fire services to military and other MOD sites. Some large private organisations also run their own fire service. There may be opportunities with Her Majesty’s Fire Service Inspectorate for experienced firefighters.
The new IPDS scheme has meant a change in the structure of the fire service. Promotion is to crew manager, then to watch manager and possibly on to station, group, area and brigade management.
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