Working Conditions For A Fire-Fighter
Mick Cumming (Fireman) gives expert video advice on: How dangerous is it to be a Fire-Fighter?; What happens if you get seriously injured?; Is the Fire Service a very regimental environment? and more...
How much does a Fire-Fighter earn?
A firefighter earns approximately £26,500 a year. This can go up to approximately £30,000 a year if you become a sub-officer.
What kind of hours do you work?
Various fire brigades throughout the country do various shift systems. The shift system that I'm on as a firefighter in Essex is two days, two nights. The firefighter's day shift consists of a 9-hour day, starting at 9 and finishing at 6, and the firefighter's night shift starts at 6 at night and finishes at 9 in the morning. So firefighters work roughly 48 hours a week, but it's an 8-day week, if you can understand that.
What kind of holidays do you get?
The holidays we get as a firefighter: we have winter holiday, which is two shifts off work. We have a summer holiday, which is two shifts off work. We also have scale B holiday, which can be a whole shift off work, or we can take four individual days. We also have approximately eight public holidays, and also, once you've done a certain amount of time, you get long-service live as well, which is about three days. If you add all this up--for example summer holiday—if you take your summer holiday with your rotor days off as well it could equate to approximately twenty days off for your summer holiday, twenty days off for your winter, and 12 days off for your scale B. It's possible that you can have approximately sixty days off a year from the Fire Service.
How dangerous is it to be a Fire-Fighter?
The job itself is not as dangerous as some people may think. Certainly there were probably even more people killed in the building industry last year than there were actually in the fire service. We have a very, very good health and safety policy. We're constantly taking self-risk assessments as fire-fighters whenever we turn up to an incident. I mean yes, certainly going into a building isn't the most safe thing in the world to do, but we are well looked after and we're well highly trained. That's why you get very few deaths in the fire service.
What happens if you get seriously injured?
If a firefighter gets seriously injured whilst on duty, the fire service does look after you really well. A firefighter would normally have six months off, full pay—sick pay. This is then reviewed after six months and the firefighter can possibly be on full pay for a year, or until however long it takes for the firefighter to get fixed. So with Essex fire brigade we have a physiotherapist that we can go to and have six free sessions to get our injury back to normal.
Is the Fire Service a very regimental environment?
The fire service certainly used to be a very regimental environment, but certainly nowadays it's not so at all, no.
What age do Fire-Fighters retire at?
Fire-fighters can retire at 55. And they've just introduced a new pension plan which will allow fire-fighters who join now and sign a contract with a new pension plan, they'll be allowed to retire at 60.
Do Fire-Fighters specialise in different areas?
Yes, certainly. When you join the fire service, you start off as a non-qualified firefighter. Once you become qualified, you can then go onto driving and learning to be proficient in other areas. Also, Certain stations have specialized pieces of equipment. The station I work at, for example, has a 'rescue tender', so you can choose to qualify for the 'rescue tender'. We also have aerial ladder platforms that you can become trained on and there's even boat training in certain places. You can also go into training if you want to and learn how to be a teacher: teaching how to use breathing apparatus and more. So there's lots of different things you can do once you join the service.
How often do you get called out per week?
In my station I get called out approximately 28 times per week. On average, my station does approximately 1,500 calls a year. If you work that out on a per week basis, it's 28 calls a week.
How much of your job is about educating the general public?
A certain part of my job is about educating the general public. Nowadays, the job has changed slightly, and we do a lot of communitey fire safety and talking to the public. We visit schools, talk to young children, tell them about the dangers of fire, read stories to them, not to play with matches and lighters, etcetera. We also visit the public and install free smoke alarms as well, as part of our service. We do that every afternoon, sometimes installing three or four smoke alarms a day. We're also often in high streets, leafletting the public. If there is a fire in an area, we will then go and leaflet drop in that area and make sure verybody else is aware what's happened. Have they got smoke alarms? Have they been checked? So that the whole brigade now has become very community fire safety conscious.
How much of your job involves engaging and educating young people?
There are various ways you we can educate young people in the fire service. We often have schemes called “road runner schemes” where we take our rescue team to an area. We invite schools to send their pupil along especially pupil who are about to learn how to drive. We show them videos of road crashes. We get them to help us cut the car up using our cutting equipment. We show them around the rescue team and we show them video showing the consequences of stealing cars and what happens if you drive too fast. The police will get involve as well and the ambulance service. We also do youth fire fighting training on Friday night or Thursday night. This is a 17-week course where kids can come along and learn to be fire fighters, learn basic skills, and various other skills that we do. They learn to chop cars out and were brief on the apparatus. And we also do a fire break scheme where schools can send in pupils to do who might suffer from bullying, certainly have low self-esteem, or just being in trouble with the police. And they will come along and will spend a week with us. And we will teach them basic skills. We are going to teach them a bit about team work, team building as consequences. And they watch videos and so we really have good youth policy at the moment.
What do you do in your average day, when not responding to emergency calls?
When we're not attending call-outs, there's a lot of training. There's always constant training to do. When we arrive at the station, we have normally morning routines where we have to check the appliance, and check all the equipment's working properly. Each day has a different routine because the station is manned 24 hours. There's no point us doing exactly what the same as the watch who's just come off has just done, so each day is a different routine. We do all those in the morning, and then we stand easy; that's where we have our food for the day, which is normally about half-ten to 11 o'clock. We'll have a cup of tea, and some sandwiches. Then we do normal training; we go out onto the drill yard, put some ladders up, and perhaps cut some cars up. Any new videos or latest techniques that come out; we'll be trained in them. Then we have lunch between 1 and 2. We're still on station. We can't go out and have lunch so we're still on call. It's normally our time to sit and relax, watch a bit of telly, read the papers. In the afternoon is when we normally do our home fire safety visits. We install smoke alarms, and go around to premises to inspect them. After that is normally our time to keep fit where we use the gym or do PTR sessions (physical training sessions). PTR sessions can involve circuit training; say weights in the gym. Sometimes we get aerobic instructors to come and put us through our paces. It's generally a really busy day. In the evening, it's slightly different than during the day. We start work at 6 o'clock. It normally consists of a little cup of tea around the mess table where our officer in charge will just tell us of any latest events going on, any new techniques that have come out that day. Then, we'll probably have a lecture about something. Or, if it's in the summer time, we may go out into the yard and do a drill. We still do drills in the winter obviously. Once that's normally finished, around 8 o'clock, we sit down and have our supper. We can then use the gym. From half past 9, or 10 o'clock our time's our own; we can sit down and relax, watch some telly, play a bit of pool or snooker, and generally relax for the evening.