There are some public sector jobs that instantly sound cool, and without doubt, the heroic image of the fire fighter is one of them. Looking past the iconic uniform, the idea of rescuing people from burning buildings sounds more like a superhero film than an actual job.
But trust us when we say it’s more than just playing the hero. Intrigued? Better read on then…
So, what will I actually be doing?
Responding to calls from the public, you’ll be doing a variety of tasks, from putting out a small chip-pan fire to rescuing trapped people.
But if you’re only becoming a fire fighter to bravely run into burning buildings, then you may need to take up another career, as it’s much more than putting out fires (we did warn you).
Your day could include some, all or none of the following, you won’t know till the minute it happens…
- Rescuing trapped people and animals from buildings, cars, trees etc
- Helping out at the scene of accidents, including floods, road accidents and rail crashes
- Calming down patients
- Giving first aid if an ambulance isn’t on scene.
- Teaching the community and local schools about fire safety
- Advising businesses on fire safety and pointing out risks
- Making sure the fire engine is working and fully stocked
And once the fire is out, it’s time to go home right? Sadly wrong. Once the fire has been destroyed you’ll have to help make the area safe to prevent any further accidents and do a thorough clean up.
If you decide that you want to climb up the fire fighting ladder to a more senior position, your additional duties would include:
- Assessing incidents and delegating duties to other fire fighters
- Writing incident reports (that’s right, not even fire fighters can avoid paperwork)
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The nitty gritty
If you’re after the average 9-5 job, you’ve come to the wrong place; fires don’t stop at the end of the day, so fire fighters work unsociable hours to make sure every hour of the day is covered.
You’ll usually work a 42 hour week in shifts, both day and night, although some employers will give you a few days off to recover afterwards. Part-time opportunities are possible, as well as job-sharing in some brigades.
When it comes to working your way up the ladder, the fire service is a great place for progression and promotion. Most members start out as trainee fire fighters, meaning that even the newest recruit has as much chance of going places.
If you want to stay on in the service but don’t fancy fighting fires anymore, there are also opportunities to work in consultancy or training, after all, someone’s got to put the new recruits through their paces.
Money, money, money
Your hard work and constant training will pay off in your pay packet, whatever level you end up working in. From the minute you start you can expect to earn around between £21,000 and £28,000 as a base salary depending on your location and role.
When you start entering the world of management, it starts go up as crew manager can earn from £29,971 to £31,262, watch manager salaries range from £31,940 - £34,961 and a station manager can pocket between £36,365 and £40,109.
Add on the paid overtime and you’re smiling.
See what people are earning in this job
The good points...
Not only is this a stable job (fires will always happen, from bad weather to people leaving the oven on), but it’s a job of variety. With no day being the same, you’ll never utter the phrase, “I’m bored.” as your daily activities are determined by the people who call for help.
As well as working in a team, you’ll often find you’re turning up to incidents with the police or ambulance service too, so you’ll never feel alone in this (highly respected) emergency service family.
...and the bad
Fire isn’t go to happen in lovely convenient places, so expect your hours to be long and your working conditions to be in dangerous conditions in all weathers.
You’ll also need to watch your weight and pass on the odd doughnut even at Christmas, as you’ll need to be fit and healthy to do this job.
Annoyingly, not everyone that calls will even need help in the first place; hoax calls are the bain of the emergency services, and you’ll attend a lot during your career.
Is there study involved?
Good news for those that mucked around in class, never got the hang of studying or simply decided that university wasn’t for them, you don’t need any formal qualifications to become a fire fighter, it’s more important to be physically fit and have a great personality. Some qualifications are useful though and a GCSE in English, maths and science are always a bonus.
For those of you that want to learn more about the fire service, you can attend degree courses which will teach you some relevant skills. Courses available include:
- Fire safety and risk managament
- Fire engineering
- Fire and explosion
- Disaster management
The most important test that you’ll face before you become a fully fledged fire fighter will be the National Firefighter Ability (NFA) tests (which cover areas including problem solving and situational awareness) and the National Firefighter Questionnaire (NFQ), which will all determin how suitable you are for the job.
But obviously they can’t test your fitness with written exams, so once you pass these, you’ll be put through your paces in physical tests…in full uniform. Not for scaredy cats or the claustrophic, you’ll be tested on your ability to cope in small spaces, assemblying and carrying equipment and evacuating casualties.
So what happens when you’ve passed all these tests with flying colours?...intense trainining and studying of course. Not for the lazy, you’ll be training for up to 16 weeks where you’ll learn essential skills and be taught how to use all the equipment properly. And don’t think you can hide away in the back of the class, you’ll be monitored and assessed frequently.
Once you’ve passed this (and had a party to celebrate all your hard work), you’ll be put on probation at a fire station, where you’ll be monitored and trained up for up to two years, getting to know the station, the community, and always improving your skills.
And even when you’re a fully fledged fire fighter, the studying isn’t necessarily over, expect plenty of practise drills, seminars and ongoing training for both using fire fighting equipment and your own personal fitness to keep you at your best.
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OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
As well as obviously being fit and healthy (so put down the chocolate), there’s some personality traits and skills that are incredibly useful for fire fighting wannabes. If you tick these boxes, this career is ideal for you:
- Good at following instructions
- Team worker
- Problem solver (and we don’t mean good at crosswords)
- Patient, understanding and reassuring
- Confident and courageous
- Common sense and good judgment
- Ability to stay calm under pressure (there’s plenty of that in the job)
- Interest in promoting fire safety
Right from the start you’re given responsibility, so if you can’t even take care of yourself, it might be time to reevaluate you job choices.
If you’re under 18 we’re sorry to tell you that it’s not for you…yet. You’ve got to be at least 18 to join the fire service. You’ll also need to hold a driving license and have both good vision and hearing.