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Fire and rescue service: career area

Fire and rescue service: career area

In the fire and rescue service you'll enforce safety laws and educate the public as well as respond to emergencies.

The fire and rescue service is responsible for emergency rescue in cases of transport-related or industrial accidents, bomb incidents and rail, road or air crashes, as well as following incidents such as domestic fires. It is also responsible for enforcing fire safety standards in public and commercial buildings and for educating the public.

The job of a firefighter is very varied. You could be:

  • rescuing people from traffic accidents or floods
  • evacuating people trapped in lifts
  • explaining to schoolchildren the risks of fireworks and playing with matches
  • installing smoke alarms in elderly people’s homes.

There is no national fire service as such; each county council and metropolitan authority provides a fire service and is accountable to central government for its efficiency.

There is no national fire service as such; each county council and metropolitan authority provides a fire service.

You don’t actually have to be a firefighter to work in the fire service. As with any other large organisation, there are a number of behind-the-scenes staff who are crucial to ensuring effective services for the public. Emergency response operators, administrators, communications managers, human resources staff and technicians are just a few of the job roles on offer.

There are also various front-line support roles that are vital to the work of the firefighting crew. These include radio operators, forensic scientists, health and safety advisers, photographers and scene of crime officers. Contact your local fire service for details of what is available in your area.

The skills you need for a career in the fire and rescue service

  • Great communication and teamwork skills
  • Caring and able to put people at ease
  • Decisiveness, commitment and enthusiasm
  • Composure when faced with a dangerous situation.

Fire service recruitment

Each fire service recruits independently and candidates should therefore contact the relevant personnel department directly. The tests you take during the recruitment process may vary depending on the fire service you apply to. You should be 18 or above, have good eyesight and be physically fit. There is also a height restriction. Graduate schemes are a relatively new development in this area; one example is the London Fire Brigade graduate scheme, which aims to fast track graduates into station manager positions.

Although recruitment is carried out by individual fire services, there is an estalished national process which includes tests of physical and intellectual ability and an assessment of attitude and motivation. The physical tests include activities such as a ladder climb, negotiating an enclosed space with obscured vision and breathing apparatus, evacuating a casualty, and carrying and assembling equipment. These tests are designed to reflect operational practice.

The ability tests cover numeracy, understanding relevant written information such as a training course manual, and problem solving relating to situations that a firefighter might experience.   The National Firefighter Questionnaire is used to assess applicants' attitude and motivation and to gauge whether there is a good match with the personal qualities and attributes all fire services look for, such as confidence and resilience in challenging situations and the ability to work effectively with others. The final stage in the recruitment process is an interview, which usually lasts for around 45 minutes.

The majority of entrants will start at the basic grade of firefighter regardless of qualifications, but the increasing complexity of modern techniques and equipment means that graduates are welcome. Training is particularly important and fire services encourage their staff to study for membership of the Institution of Fire Engineers or to gain management qualifications.