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On Call Firefighters

Firstly, many people, particularly within the Fire Service, will still use the term retained firefighter. During 2010 the use of the name 'on call firefighter' started to make an appearance and sort of says what it does on the tin!

What is an On Call Firefighter?

Well, quite simply it could be anyone. It may be your milkman, the young lady serving in the local shop, the plumber who fixed your central heating.

Any of them could be an on call firefighter. Ready, at a moments notice, to leave their place of work, that family get together or the pub quiz and dash off to their local fire station to deal with literally any type of emergency situation.

How 2 Become a UK Firefighter

There are over 18000 on call firefighters in the UK and in many parts of the country they are the fire service. These are the people that will be first on scene at a house fire, a car crash or flooding incident. In Suffolk we have 35 fire stations, of which only four have a wholetime crew on station 24 hours a day. All the other fire stations are either day-manned or solely crewed by on call firefighters. And that is the same for vast swathes of the UK.

Most people assume that when a fire engine turns up at an incident the crew have been at the fire station, drinking tea and waiting for the next shout to come in. But, even in large towns where there are wholetime crews, any shout that requires more than one fire engine will have on call firefighters called out too. Or there could be multiple incidents and the wholetime crew can only be in one place at a time! In Lowestoft, my home town, there are four fire engines but only one of these is crewed by the wholetime crew. To get the other three fire engines turned out relies solely on on call firefighters.

Could you be an On Call Firefighter?

It can be a big commitment but it's the sort of job that just gets under your skin - it becomes a part of you, a way of life.

Generally there are two types of cover that you can offer your local Fire and Rescue Service - full cover or three quarter cover. Full cover, as its name suggests is pretty much 24/7 but in reality you have to offer cover of a minimum of 120 hours per week. Three quarter cover is usually 80 hours to 120 hours and can be suited to those working shift patterns or with family commitments.

Early on in your career as a on call firefighter there will be a number of training courses to attend - basic training (5 - 7 days), two Breathing Apparatus courses (5 days each) plus others like First Aid, Road Traffic Collision and Marine Firefighting - much dependent on your location and the Fire and Rescue Service that you are working for.

To find out if your local fire station is recruiting just turn up on their drill night (there's usually a sign outside the fire station that will tell you when this is) or contact your Fire and Rescue Service.

How do On Call Firefighters get called out?

Every on call firefighter carries an alerter (a pager or bleeper) that is activated by Fire Control when their station is required to respond to an incident. They then have around five minutes in which to make their way to the fire station and mobilise whatever fire appliance(s) are needed for this incident. And don't forget, the alerter can go off anytime, day or night. You may be at work, at home watching the telly, in bed (sleeping), out with your mates or any one of many situations when you wish that thing just hadn't gone off!

The on call firefighters then turn out, ready to use the same equipment, procedures and techniques used by their wholetime colleagues.

And when the incident has been dealt with the on call firefighters can go back to work, swear about missing the footie on the TV or try to get back to sleep, ready for their day job in just a few short hours.

What type of incidents do On Call Firefighters have to deal with?

You name it and on call firefighters have to deal with it! We are expected to deal with the same types of incidents as wholetime firefighters. In the eyes of an Incident Commander we are all firefighters and must be able to deal with whatever emergency we are faced with.

Incidents attended by on call firefighters include:

What training do On Call Firefighters receive?

Surprisingly this varies enormously depending on which Fire and Rescue Service you serve with. In Suffolk new recruits undergo a ten day 'Approved to Ride' course which takes in basics such as running out hose, hydrants, ladders, knots and lines, RTC's and pumping. Having successfully passed this course the new recruit is issued with their alerter (pager) and can respond to calls.

There are then two Breathing Apparatus (BA) courses, each of five days duration, normally a few months apart. The first course is all the BA basics - donning and starting up procedures, set cleaning and cylinder charging, moving in smoke and darkness, search and rescue, hose and hosereel management, etc. The second course moves on with more advanced search and rescue drills, using guidelines, confined space drills and working in nil visibility (hi-ex foam).

Add to this an RTC course, first aid, LGV driving, EFAD (Emergency Fire Appliance Driving), Marine Firefighting and many others and you can see that there's quite a bit of training required.

On call firefighters need to achieve the same level of training as their wholetime colleagues. When we turn up at an incident the public won't be too chuffed if we stand back and wait till a wholetime crew arrive because we haven't had the relevant training. A fire engine turns up and the public expect results…

However, all of this has to be achieved in just 2 or 3 hours training per week. And when you consider that you also need to attend lectures, do routine checks and carry out Community Fire Safety commitments, it is something of a tall order!

On Call Firefighters and the local community

Community Fire Safety

One call firefighters take an active part in Community Fire Safety initiatives from Home Fire Safety Checks to educational visits to local schools.

This is part of a concerted and sustained programme to drive down the numbers of fires that need to be dealt with

Because on call firefighters live within the community they serve, they are well placed to know and understand local risks and are known and trusted by the local community.

Road Safety

All Fire and Rescue Services run their own initiatives aimed at reducing the number of deaths on our roads.

In Suffolk we have Learn & Live and Too Young To Die. In the Waveney district of Suffolk we have now delivered Learn & Live to over 6000 students and young adults in the most at risk age group - 17 to 24 year olds.

Fetes and Open Days

In villages and town across the UK you will often see the local on call firefighters attending fetes, galas and carnivals. It's a great way to meet the public and, let's face it, a fire engine always attracts a crowd of small boys, Dads and a fair few ladies too!

Many fire stations also hold their own open days, often teaming up with the police and ambulance service to make it an alround Emergency Services open day.