The role of a firefighter is a demanding and crucial job in our society. As a firefighter, it’s vital to work well under pressure and in an emergency. Firefighters are significant in protecting the public and our environment.
Firefighters play a physical role in the safety of others and promote all aspects of fire safety.
What is a firefighter?
Firefighters work as part of the emergency services. Their job is to respond to emergencies, protecting people, the environment and property from various types of emergencies and accidents, including fires, chemical spills, car crashes, flooding and more.
A firefighter works within the local community, educating about fire safety awareness, to prevent fires and accidents from occurring. As a key player in promoting fire safety and enforcing these standards for commercial and public premises, you will act on advising the risk of fire.
Being a firefighter is a busy job, with learning and development at the core. You will attend lectures, practice drills and fire training frequently to ensure you are on top of safety procedures to help the public.
Once completion of the process and tests, the next step is the fire brigade fitness test, carried out in firefighter uniform, an interview and a medical test.
Firefighters have an intense and full-on job, usually taking on 24-hour shifts, providing a valuable service to the community.
The firefighter job has two different types:
- Wholetime firefighters: These work full time for the fire service and cover the urban areas in the community.
- Retained firefighters: These are the firefighters on call and cover the more rural areas, or out of sticks locations. Retained firefighters will live within five minutes of the fire station, and work based on call-outs for emergencies. They usually have another job alongside firefighting, typically self-employed work to allow them to be flexible when leaving for a call out.
A firefighter's job can range from everyday tasks to less frequent responsibilities. These can include:
- Being alert for emergency calls and requests, and responding safely to the incident at hand.
- Proving first aid before the ambulance crew arrives and help with relieving the distressing and stressful situations.
- Attending various emergency incidents including floods, rail or air crashes, fires, road accidents and more.
- Rescuing people and animals from incidents and burning buildings.
- Ensuring everyone is safe at all times.
- Learning about the local area to help you respond to calls in an efficient manner.
- The ability to inspect and maintain the fire engine and fire service equipment.
- Assisting fire hydrant drills and checking emergency water supplies.
- Being able to check and clean an area after an incident.
- Attend regular drills and training, to learn up-to-date equipment and safety measures.
- Caring for your physical health and maintaining your fitness to stay on top of duties.
- Promoting fire safety to the public through talks at schools and local organisations.
- Inspecting buildings to enforce fire safety standards.
- Collaborating with other emergency services including police and ambulance.
- The ability to control and put out fires.
For firefighter managers, the job role changes to more supervisory activities. These can range from directing day-to-day tasks and deciding the best course of action for the crew, to writing full incident reports and working with external agencies.
Across the UK, there’s a nationally agreed structure for a firefighter’s salary, depending on your role.
Based on the Fire Brigade’s Union, the trainee firefighter pay starts at £24,191. The development role increases to £25,198 and the competent role up to £32,244. As a crew manager, the salary begins at £34,269, for a watch manager, £36,521 and a station manager's salary, it’s £41,578. The more senior you develop within the fire brigade, the higher your salary with the top role reaching £61,000.
For retainment firefighters, the pay is slightly different as they don’t work on a full-time basis. Trainee position salary starts at £2,419, and the highest level salary can increase to £6,167.
Working as a firefighter in London, the wage will be higher than in other parts of the country. Trainee firefighters start at £27,750 and when qualified, can increase to £37,032. Working your way to the top managerial position, you can earn up to £71,000.
When it comes to being a firefighter, physical attributes, personal qualities and good education are more important than higher-level qualifications. It’s common to enter the industry without a degree or higher national diploma (HND).
There are many graduate-entry degree courses which can help assist your firefighter career including BSc (Hons) Fire and Leadership Studies at the University of Central Lancashire in partnership with Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and BSc (Hons) Fire and Rescue at the University of Wolverhampton in partnership with West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service. There are other related courses including fire safety or risk management, and even high-level postgraduate courses in fire safety engineering available.
Although graduating with these qualifications is a benefit to equip you with the skills you need within the fire industry, they don’t guarantee entry into the service.
Similar to university, no academic qualifications are required to enter the firefighter service, however, a good education is a benefit to developing your skills. At college, you could take a level 2 or 3 diploma in public services.
Most aspiring firefighters directly apply to the service and need to be 18 years old before applying. When you have completed the application form, there is a standard national selection process, the National Firefighter Selection (NFS) and the test, Personal Qualities and Attributes (PQA) to ensure you are suitable for the role.
A great way to work whilst you study is by applying for a firefighter apprenticeship in the fire service.
Once completion of the process and tests, the next step is the fire brigade fitness test, carried out in firefighter uniform, an interview and a medical test. The medical test looks to ensure you have good vision and good hearing as it’s vital for the role. These tests vary depending on the fire service you are applying for.
Training and development
As a firefighter, staying up to date with fire fighting training is a vital part of the role. Initially, the induction firefighter training takes around 12-18 weeks. This training is held at a specifically-equipped training centre to teach you all the essential skills as a firefighter. The skills range from hose laying to ladder safety and learning about fire safety within the community.
Once training is complete, you will have a probation period at the fire station and your performance is constantly monitored.
During your time as a firefighter, continuing professional development (CPD) is crucial. You will be placed on a programme which includes practical training sessions, lectures, experiences and up-to-date safety training. It’s down to you to maintain your fitness level as staying fit and healthy is a significant part of the role.
As a firefighter, you need to be physically fit, confident and aware at all times. These are the top skills to have:
- Strong communication skills with colleagues and the public.
- The ability to follow instructions and protocol.
- Be a team player and collaborate well with others.
- Great at problem-solving.
- A patient, understanding and sensitive nature.
- Confident and resilient in everything you do.
- Be flexible and adapt easily to new situations.
- The ability to stay calm in stressful situations and have courage.
- The motivation to continue with your learning.
- Has a reassuring and integral manner.
- Keen interest in promoting fire safety and risk prevention to the community.
- Full UK driving licence.
- The ability to pay attention to detail.
A great way to work whilst you study is by applying for a firefighter apprenticeship in the fire service. That way you can start your hands-on training as a firefighter as well as develop the theory side of the skills. There are various fire service apprenticeships available including the firefighter advanced apprenticeship, which you can start by applying through one of the many fire stations.
Work experience isn’t easy to come about as a firefighter due to the health and safety requirements. However, there are other ways to gain experience within the industry. You can be a firefighter volunteer within a fire station as an observer or an emergency call handler, which will give you an idea of what part of the job can be like. There may also be the opportunity to volunteer as a retained firefighter, which can help you in the long run and increase your chances for a successful career in the service.
Training for your firefighter career can begin at a young age with the fire services running a Fire Cadets programme for 14-17 years to learn the skills to work in the fire service. The programme includes varied cadet activities and allows you to take several levels 2 qualifications including BTEC Certificate in Fire and Rescue Services in the Community.
Developing your career as a firefighter is usually earned on individual merit, but showing competence in the role and top attendance for assessment is key. The career path is a structured one, growing up the ladder step by step.
A firefighter works within the local community, educating about fire safety awareness, to prevent fires and accidents from occurring.
Firefighters begin as a trainee. The next step is a crew manager, responsible for the crew and fire appliances and is in charge of smaller incidents, supporting the watch manager. The watch manager is step up and leads numerous small teams at larger incidents. The station manager is a higher level, who ensures the service delivery across one or multiple stations. Group managers are responsible for services across one geographical area or department. An area manager is responsible for a larger geographical area and a brigade manager is in charge of departments, supporting the chief fire officer. The chief fire officer is the top role, ensuring delivery of all fire and rescue services.
With promotions, it’s usually necessary to move between different services to go beyond station manager.
Another route in your career could be specialising in a particular area within the service or developing your qualifications further. You could study for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees in subjects from fire engineering to fire and risk management.