Firefighters respond to emergency situations and rescue people and property from all types of accident and disaster. They also make an area safer by minimising the risks, including the social and economic costs, caused by fire and other hazards.
Firefighters work closely with the local community to increase their level of fire safety awareness in order to help prevent fires and accidents occurring in the first place. They promote fire safety and enforce fire safety standards in public and commercial premises by acting and advising on all matters relating to the protection of life and property from fire and other risks. Lectures, exercises, practice drills and other forms of training are an integral and ongoing part of the job.
Typical work activities
Typical activities include:
- responding immediately and safely to emergency calls and requests for assistance;
- attending emergency incidents including fires, road accidents, floods, bomb incidents, spillages of dangerous
- substances, and rail and air crashes;
- rescuing trapped people and animals;
- minimising distress and suffering, including giving first aid before ambulance crews arrive;
- safeguarding their own and other people’s personal safety at all times;
- responding quickly to unforeseen circumstances as they arise;
- cleaning up and checking the site after dealing with an incident;
- taking time to become familiar with local streets, roads and buildings around their own and nearby fire stations in
- order to respond to emergency calls with the utmost speed and efficiency;
- inspecting and maintaining the appliance (fire engine) and its equipment, assisting in the testing of fire hydrants and checking emergency water supplies;
- undertaking drills and physical training and taking part in training on techniques, use of equipment and related matters; maintaining the level of physical fitness necessary to carry out all the duties of a firefighter;
- maintaining links with the local community and educating and informing the public to help promote fire safety, e.g. giving talks in schools and to local organisations, and home visits to offer advice.
For fire officers in charge, additional activities include:
- assessing situations quickly and deciding on the best course of action;
- directing the crew;
- writing full incident reports.
Salary and pay information for Firefighters
- There is a nationally agreed salary structure for firefighters. See the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) for details of salary rates (including overtime rates) for whole-time and retained firefighters.
- Starting salary for a trainee firefighter is £21,157. When full competence is achieved, this rises to £28,199. Higher rates apply for overtime.
- Crew manager salaries range from £29,971 (development) to £31,263 (competent) and watch manger salaries range from £31,940 – £34,961.
- A station manager’s earning potential is between £36,365 and £40,109 plus overtime rates, subject to the officer’s level of competence.
- Further advancement to the role of group manager and then area manager attracts salaries of between £41,881 and £53,934, depending on the level of competence. (All salary data collected June 2010, FBU.)
- There are two types of firefighter: whole-time and retained. Whole-time members generally work in urban areas, whereas retained firefighters tend to cover rural areas, responding to pagers when an emergency call is received. Most brigades offer several types of retained contract based on different levels of commitment. See the FBU website for salary information, including the full annual retainer, pay rate per hour and disturbance payment per call-out.
- Working hours typically include regular unsocial hours. Firefighters work on average a 42-hour week and usually work in shifts – most work two day shifts followed by two night shifts and then have four days off. However, different services employ different duty systems, depending on their needs. When necessary, paid overtime is worked.
- The work often takes place in dangerous and unpleasant conditions: heat, cold, at heights, in enclosed spaces, in smoke-filled buildings, and in all kinds of weather conditions. You may be exposed to danger from collapsing buildings or vehicles, explosions and fumes. You need to be physically fit, as firefighters carry heavy equipment and breathing apparatus.
- Job-sharing and part-time work are possible.
- Self-employment/freelance work may be possible, depending on shift patterns, but is more likely to occur after retirement. Opportunities might include consultancy or training.
- The numbers of female and black and minority ethnic firefighters is increasing through positive recruitment strategies. Contact your local fire and rescue service for details of targeted recruitment events.
- Jobs are available throughout the UK. See Ordinary People, Extraordinary Career for a list of UK fire and rescue services.
- Smart appearance is important. Male firefighters are not permitted to have beards, sideburns or moustaches since they could prevent the breathing apparatus facemask from working effectively.
- Travel within a working day is frequent. Absence from home overnight (other than rostered duty) and overseas work or travel are generally uncommon.
Employers and vacancy sources
There is no national fire service. Principal employers are local authority fire and rescue services. There are 46 fire and rescue services in England run by locally accountable fire and rescue authorities (FRA) and accountable to the Department for Communities and Local Government . Wales has three fire and rescue services, accountable to the Welsh Assembly Government; Scotland has eight, accountable to the Scottish Government; and the Fire and Rescue Service in Northern Ireland (NIFRS) is divided into four area commands, accountable to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is the recognised trade union for the fire and rescue service and carries out national negotiations when necessary. The FBU website also has up-to-date information on salaries and pensions.
Opportunities also exist with a small number of other private and public sector employers, including:
- Ministry of Defence (MoD) Fire Risk Management Organisation;
- civil airport fire services, e.g. British Airports Authority (BAA) and other non-BAA airports regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority;
- port fire services, e.g. Port of Felixstowe;
- forest industry;
- industrial fire services (to protect private companies in the chemical, pharmaceutical, nuclear, oil and gas industries).
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