A day in the life of an ‘on call’ firefighter from Pebworth
We asked 35-year-old Will to tell us more about himself…
I live with my wife, Amy, and my two daughters, Alice and Ava, in Pebworth, just a few minutes away from the fire station. In my day job, I’m a fully qualified agricultural plant fitter at a local garage where I service and repair tractors and diggers. I love the work, although in the summer there can be a lot of extra hours. Nevertheless, I find more than enough time to be an on call firefighter at Pebworth, and still have time for my family and friends.
What was your motivation for becoming an on call firefighter?
As a young boy, I lived in Tysoe, just near the fire station, and from my house I could see the fire crews doing their training drills every week and I knew then that I’d love to be a firefighter. When the flyer dropped through my letterbox here in Pebworth a couple of years ago asking for volunteers for on call firefighters, I knew this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. I went along to the awareness session to find out more, completed the application and haven’t looked back!
Did you need any special qualifications to apply?
Not as such, but obviously you need to show that you can read and understand information, and that you have the number skills you might need in the role of a firefighter. Other qualities are just as important, like being a team player, and having patience and compassion. You also need to live within five minutes of the fire station, which people don’t always realise.
And what about fitness?
That’s something people always ask about! I do a lot of heavy lifting in my day job and I managed to pass the fitness assessment without any problems. I’d say I’m even fitter now, thanks to the weekly drills on a Tuesday night where we do all kinds of different activities and training. It’s as much about stamina as strength, although hose running is surprisingly challenging!
Do you need to have a head for heights?!
I’d say yes! There’s a lot of ladder work in the first couple of weeks of training and I remember being asked to climb a ladder, do a leg lock and then lean over backwards away from the ladder. I think you’d soon find out if you couldn’t cope with working at height!
What format did the training take?
To start with, there’s a block of about three weeks where you concentrate on core skills, such as hose running, ladder pitches and setting up pumps and hydrants. You also get an insight into RTCs (road traffic collisions) and Hazmat (hazardous materials). I recall a lot of running about and being yelled at but it’s important that you can follow orders. After that, I had two weeks of BA (breathing apparatus) training and then a test of core competencies to check I’d properly understood everything I’d learnt. Then there’s the weekly drill night where you concentrate on something different each week, such as rescues from height or road traffic collisions. I’m hoping to do driver training before too long as well so that I’ll be qualified to drive a fire engine.
Would you say that you have developed any new skills as a result of being an on call firefighter?
Most definitely. There’s the obvious ones like first aid training but my people skills are much better and I’m a much more confident person now.
What do your employers think of you working extra hours on call?
They have been great. I’ve needed some flexibility with my holidays to fit in the training and I’ve been called out when I’ve been at work, and they haven’t made it difficult for me which I really appreciate. Hopefully they see that I’m doing something that is for the good of the local community and that I’m constantly learning new skills.
What do your family and friends think of you working as a retained firefighter? Has it had much impact on you family or social life?
They’re all really proud of me, and my girls seem to love the fact that their Daddy is a fireman! I do get shouts (call-outs) in the middle of the night but to avoid disturbing the rest of the family, I make sure my clothes are all ready next to the bed just in case and I’ve become good at pressing the button on my alerter as it makes the first sound. I imagined that becoming an on call firefighter would be the end of my social life, especially as I do the maximum cover (120 hours) but it hasn’t been like that at all. I actually have a wider circle of friends now and I still get time for my hobby, which is drag racing.
How do you cope with the tiredness when you get called out?
I find I get a buzz or adrenalin rush when I get a shout and that helps me get going, particularly in the middle of the night. The tiredness seems to creep up on you a couple of days later if you’ve had a long night but it really hasn’t been a problem.
Can you remember your very first call out?
Yes, it was a RTC at Honeybourne which thankfully wasn’t too serious. However the third call was an eye-opener, a serious RTC at Bretforton.
What type of incident are you called out to most?
It depends on the time of year but in the Pebworth area, we see a lot of chimney fires and road traffic collisions in the winter months and then more barn fires in the summer. There’s never really a pattern – just occasionally you’ll get more than one call out in a night but another time, you might get a gap of a couple of weeks or more.
What would you say to anyone considering finding out more about becoming an on call firefighter?
Just try it. The initial training is hard work and you’ll need the support and understanding from your employer and your family but you’ll get such a lot out of it and it’s great to be doing something so meaningful in your local community. I’d recommend going along to the next awareness session, talking to existing on call firefighters working out of Pebworth and taking it from there….
The next Awareness Session will be held at Pebworth Fire Station on Wednesday 5 December at 7pm. Anyone interested in attending can book a place by calling the HR department at HWFRS on 01905 368 343 or the 24-hour answerphone line on 01905 368 378.