Firefighter positions are open to graduates and Diplomates in all subjects, but a degree or formal further education qualifications are not essential and entry without a degree or HND is common. Personal qualities and physical attributes are more important than academic qualifications, though a good general education is required, and GCSE or equivalent passes in English, maths and a science subject are particularly useful.
There are, however, a number of vocationally-focused fire safety degree courses available, run in partnership with local fire and rescue services. These include:
- University of Central Lancashire BSc (Hons) Fire and Leadership Studies (in partnership with the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service);
- University of Wolverhampton BSc (Hons) Fire and Rescue (in partnership with the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service).
These courses do not guarantee entry into the fire and rescue service but aim to equip students with the skills needed to pursue a career in the fire industry. Contact the course providers for further details and entry requirements.
Other relevant degree courses in areas such as fire engineering, fire safety and risk management, and fire and explosion are also available, as well as degrees in related areas such as disaster management.
To become a firefighter you must be at least 18 years old and must pass a series of National Firefighter Ability (NFA) tests and fill in a National Firefighter Questionnaire (NFQ) to ensure you are suitable for the role.
The written tests cover the following areas:
- working with numbers;
- understanding information;
- situational awareness and problem-solving.
On successful completion of these written tests, applicants move on to a series of physical tests carried out in full firefighter uniform:
- coping in a confined space;
- ladder carrying and lifting;
- assembling and carrying equipment;
- casualty evacuation.
Good vision in both eyes and good hearing are also essential. See the Fire Service website for full details of current eyesight requirements and medical checks.
To improve your chances of entry, you need to remain fit and gain as much information about both the role and fire and rescue service in general as possible. It may be useful to join the Fire Service website discussion forum to keep up to date with relevant fire issues. Due to health and safety requirements it may not be possible to carry out work experience and you will not be able to attend incidents or travel in a fire appliance. It may be possible, however, to be placed as an observer in a fire station. Contact the fire and rescue service you are interested in direct to see if this is possible.
As well as physical fitness, candidates need to show evidence of the following:
- effective communication skills, both oral and written;
- composure and a reassuring manner;
- ability to follow instructions;
- teamworking skills and the ability to work with others both in the fire and rescue service and in the community;
- problem-solving skills;
- patience and understanding;
- confidence and resilience;
- adaptability and flexibility;
- sound judgement, courage, decisiveness, quick reactions and the ability to stay calm in difficult circumstances – accidents and emergencies may result in fatalities and you must be able to deal with these situations;
- the willingness and ability to learn on a continuing basis;
- an interest in promoting community safety, education and risk prevention.
You may also be required to hold a full UK driving licence. See the Fire Service website for a full list of personal qualities and attributes (PQAs) required for the role.
Fire and rescue services only recruit when they need firefighters to replace those who are retiring or leaving the service. There is no set time of year when recruitment takes place. Each fire service recruits independently following national fire service recruitment procedures and you should contact the personnel or recruitment department of the fire and rescue service to which you intend to apply. The current economic climate may affect the number of jobs available.
Some fire and rescue services, for example the London Fire Brigade, have carried out specific graduate recruitment schemes in the past and may do so again in the future.
Firefighter training is intensive and the initial period takes around 12-16 weeks to complete. It is usually held at a specially equipped training centre where you will be taught basic firefighting skills such as ladder safety, hose laying and how to use breathing apparatus. Training also involves learning about fire safety and the importance of getting the fire safety message across to the local community.
You will be required to undertake regular study, both in the training centre and at home in the evenings and at weekends, and you will be assessed regularly to monitor your progress. Once you have attained your first aid certificate and got to grips with the basic skills, you will get experience of a simulated fire, including the heat, humidity, flames and thick smoke.
On successful completion of your initial training, you will join a fire station on probation and your performance will be continuously assessed. This development programme typically takes around two years and focuses on learning about the community and the risks surrounding your station, and showing competence in the areas covered at the training centre. Visit individual fire and rescue service websites for details of their training programme.
You will be expected to undertake a continuous training programme throughout your career. This will include attending lectures, exercises, practical training sessions and other forms of training to maintain your competence levels. You will be responsible for developing your own skills and ensuring that you maintain your fitness levels.
The Fire Service College runs a range of specialist courses in areas such as:
- specialist operations;
- hazardous materials;
- fire and community safety;
- rope, water and associated rescue skills.
They also run leadership and management courses aimed at middle and senior managers. Relevant courses are also run by the Scottish Fire Services College (SFSC) and the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Training Centre .
Most members of the fire and rescue service start as firefighters and gain front-line experience. This means that every new recruit has a chance of promotion, even to the most senior posts. Promotion is earned on individual merit and is subject to demonstrating competence in each role and showing evidence of potential through attendance at assessment and development centres.
There is a well-structured career path, which gives real responsibility at an early stage. For those who want promotion, career development typically runs along the following lines:
- crew manager;
- watch manager;
- station manager;
- group manager;
- area manager;
- brigade manager.
The fire and rescue service is currently piloting a fast track scheme to help outstanding people reach their full potential. The scheme is currently being trialled by 13 fire and rescue services and is open to a small number of trainee firefighters as well as current operational staff. The aim of the scheme is to provide an intensive development programme that helps candidates reach station manager level within about four years. Beyond the level of station manager, it is often necessary to move between services to gain promotion.
It is also possible to specialise in a particular area of the fire and rescue service and there are opportunities to study for a foundation, undergraduate or postgraduate degree in areas such as fire and risk management, fire engineering, fire safety engineering, fire and leadership, and disaster management.
Other possible opportunities include study for membership of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) , for those involved in fire safety and prevention work, or study for a general postgraduate management qualification.
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