The everyday people on call to fight fires

On-call firefighters - The backbone of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service

Frodsham Fire Station's crew of on-call firefighters

On-call firefighters are individuals from all walks of life who juggle their everyday jobs with the demands of being called out to a range of incidents.

They are housewives, plumbers and accountants who respond to fires, floods, road traffic accidents, chemical spills and the fabled rescuing of cats from trees.

Largely based in rural areas, more than 18,000 on-call firefighters cover about 60% of the UK and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service are recruiting for these essential roles across the county.

The Chronicle went along to a drill night at Frodsham Fire Station to learn how an on-call fire station works and discovered that camaraderie, community spirit and being able to maintain another career are just a few of the draws of being an on-call firefighter.

Derek Dickson is a full-time station manager for the on-call fire stations in Frodsham, Malpas, Tarporley, Audlem and Middlewich.

He said: “Every brigade in the country is divided into risk areas. You look at the risks, which are everything from industry to house fires to road traffic accidents and special service calls, and you then deploy a fire service in that county based on that risk assessment.

“Some areas are so busy in terms of how many calls they have that they justify having a full-time fire station 24 hours a day because they can turn out a bit quicker.”

On-call firefighters attend weekly evening training sessions and on that particular drill night, the crew had to respond to a simulated road traffic accident.

No different other than the hours and shifts they work, on-call firefighters receive exactly the same training as full-time firefighters.

“Everything is exactly the same. Same equipment, same training, so when they’re at incidents, they’re equals,” Derek said.

“They get an awful lot of transferable skills. They become very disciplined and very self-disciplined. They learn a lot of practical skills like first aid which is very useful in the workplace and they learn management skills. They become like a family – there’s a lot of camaraderie there. They feel that there are a lot of rewards from being an on-call firefighter, as well as doing whatever else they do.

“They’re very dedicated people and usually it’s because of community spirit. Do they want to be full-time firefighters? No. The majority of them have full-time careers and they can be anything from a solicitor, housewife, doctor.”

 

On-call firefighters must live or work within a five minute radius of their local fire station so they can respond to incidents as soon as possible, and on average are called out two or three times a week for a couple of hours.

Derek explained: “The minimum we require is 50 to 60 hours on call each week. They may get called out. They may not. They just go about their normal business, as long as they’re within five minutes of the station. It means you can’t leave the area or drink beer.”

The service is especially keen to hear from people who are available during the day and at weekends.

“What we love is when people work nights as they can give us day cover. The biggest issue we have is keeping our pumps available during the day as most people work in the day during the week,” Derek said.

Stacey Dearden, 30, is a bank worker by day and has been a firefighter at nights and weekends since January, 2013.

Mike Cooper and Stacey Dearden juggle their day jobs with being on-call firefighters
Mike Cooper and Stacey Dearden juggle their day jobs with being on-call firefighters
 

Originally from Widnes, Stacey moved to Frodsham so she could become an on-call firefighter at the station.

She said: “It’s exciting. You couldn’t really get anything more different to working in a bank. You get the best of both worlds.

“When the pager goes off in the middle of the night you could turn up to anything. It could be a big job elsewhere in Cheshire as well, it’s not necessarily just around the corner. You can get anything, anywhere.”

Frodsham born and bred gym manager Mike Cooper, 31, is coming up to three years as an on-call firefighter in May.

Mike said: “I do between 50 and 70 hours a week on-call and I work shifts at the gym so it’s very flexible because it fits in with what I do day to day.

“It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do because living in Frodsham all my life, it’s nice to help the community.

“The training is excellent so you can deal with anything. It’s loads of fun and teaches you a lot at the same time.

“It shapes you as a person. It makes you better at your day job and the camaraderie between everyone is great. You make so many close friends. You’re very much in a team and everyone looks after each other. There’s loads to get out of it.”

On-call firefighters earn an income in the region of £5,000 per year.

Four of Cheshire’s 18 fire stations are currently recruiting – Malpas, Tarporley, Winsford and Northwich. The closing date for applications is February 21.

For more information on how to apply, visit Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service recruitment.

New fire cadet recruits sought

Frodsham Fire Station is recruiting young people between the ages of 12 and 17 to become Fire Cadets.

The rewarding training scheme offers fun, an insight into working in the emergency services, the chance to learn new personal and social skills and potentially earn a professional qualification.

Vicky Wrest, cadet manager for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “Being a cadet with the service is an excellent opportunity for young people. It gives them the opportunity to develop personally as well as learning about self discipline and team work.”

As part of a continual training and development program, the cadets will be provided with a free fire kit and uniform similar to that worn by firefighters and will take part in a drill night one evening a week at their local fire station.

Drill nights take place on Wednesday evenings from 7pm until 9pm. During this time cadets train with firefighting equipment, which includes hoses, fire appliances and ladder as well as doing other outdoor activities.

Cadets also take part in additional activities at weekends and during the school holidays which include residential stays and local and national camp trips.

With fundraising for international projects an ongoing commitment, some young people from the Cheshire Cadet Units have the opportunity to go overseas on exchange visits to help with community projects.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s youth engagement manager Nick Evans said: “The cadet scheme is a fantastic initiative and enables young people to make a real difference to their local community by supporting the work of the firefighters.”

For more information about joining the cadets, visit  Cheshire Fire and Rescue or contact Vicky Wrest on 01606 868427, or email cadet06@cheshirefire.gov.uk.

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