The main duties of a full-time firefighter are to help protect the public in emergency situations. They respond to a wide variety of calls, such as car crashes, chemical spills, flooding, water rescue and general rescue as well as fires. With many fire crews being trained as first responders they can provide first aid until the arrival of ambulance personnel. In addition to attending emergency call outs and rescuing people and animals from life-threatening situations, the job entails:
- using sophisticated firefighting and rescue equipment
- promoting fire safety via talks, advice and training sessions
- inspecting and enforcing safety standards in commercial and residential properties
- demonstrating the use of firefighting equipment
- performing practice drills
- working with police and ambulance service personnel
- undertaking physical and academic training
- checking and maintaining vehicles, equipment, hydrants and water supplies
All staff wear uniforms, and 24-hour shift work is a standard requirement of the job. The work can be stressful and dangerous but there is a great deal of job satisfaction to be gained from providing such a valuable service to the community.
There are two main divisions of firefighter: full-time professional firefighters and retained firefighters. Apart from training, retained firefighters only attend the fire station during a call out and usually have another full-time job. They are employed in rural areas and must live or work within five minutes of the station.
Firefighters are employed by:
- local authority fire services
- airports and ports
- the armed forces
- a small number of industrial organisations, such as those in the chemical, nuclear, gas and oil industries
Competition for entry is intense. A lengthy and rigorous selection procedure includes a range of written, psychometric and practical tests. Vacancies are advertised as they arise by individual services online and in local and regional newspapers. Specialist publications such as FIRE contain details of opportunities for qualified and senior firefighters.
You can become a firefighter both with or without a degree. Academic qualifications are not necessary for entry, although a number of degree subjects including physical, chemical and materials sciences or engineering may be helpful, both for entry and later promotion.
Uniformed or emergency service experience may also be beneficial. Ongoing training is an essential part of the work: new firefighters start with three to four months of induction training and then a probation period of up to two years. After this, firefighters are encouraged to work towards relevant qualifications.
To find out more about getting into emergency services work via a school leaver route see the public sector section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.
National minimum entrance requirements state that all candidates must have good unaided eyesight and hearing and be 18 or above. In addition, a medical examination and various physical fitness tests must be passed. In terms of personal qualities, firefighters should be confident, resilient, flexible, strong team members, able to think quickly under pressure and able to communicate effectively.