On-call firefighters have everyday lives and jobs, until their pager sounds; then they immediately make their way to the fire station. They don’t work for a back-up team or a second rate crew. On-call firefighters are professional firefighters, on the front line, saving lives.
Our role and workforce has developed and so has our place in the community. Our on-call firefighters come from all walks of life – from stay at home parents and self-employed business owners to shop workers and tradespeople. Male and female. Tall and short. Fitness enthusiasts and cake lovers alike. And most don’t have any previous experience until they apply.
There are just three requirements – you must:
Our on-call firefighters are called out to anything from floods and fires to road traffic collisions or chemical spills; we make sure they are trained to deal with everything from extinguishing burning buildings to providing first aid.
From day one we’re here to support you through the process. Our On-Call Recruitment Team will guide you through the entire process, our Fitness Team will support your fitness journey and our Training Instructors will ensure you’re supported during the assessment.
Once you’ve passed your assessment process and been offered employment with us you’ll be ready to start training to become an on-call firefighter. This will begin with a two-week training course, which runs Monday – Friday.
After this you’ll attend evening training sessions which usually last for two hours one evening a week for 10 weeks.
After your initial training you’ll of course continue training throughout your career – making sure you’re always up to date and confident in your role.
“Find your inner strength and never give up,” said Dita Kotoulova, Ongar’s newest on-call firefighter, who is determined to prove that if you have enough determination then you can achieve anything.
“About a year and a half ago I was thinking about what I wanted my future to look like and there it was – firefighter,” she said. “My physical strength, my calm thinking during stressful situations, wanting to help others and my life experience – I thought it would be perfect.”
A self-confessed ‘fitness enthusiast’, Dita moved to the UK 14 years ago from the Czech Republic, and alongside gaining qualifications in horse riding and interpreting, became part of the Nuclear Races Team; physically challenging herself to race over obstacles, something which has taken her as far afield as Ohio, USA.
Already confident about her fitness and strength levels, Dita applied to be an on-call firefighter after attending a taster session earlier this year. Soon after, she visited Ongar Fire Station to introduce herself and was welcomed by the crew immediately.
“Before I came to the station I wondered how they were going to look at me and if they’d be thinking, ‘oh she’s a girl and she’s not going to be able to do it, but I think when they saw how strong I was they just forgot about that. It’s gone down great and they treated me as part of the team straightaway.”
And from day one Dita has proven she’s up for the challenge. “I’ve found the fitness part quite easy,” she said. “You do need to be strong and tough to deal with the heat, but the experience is pretty much exactly as I expected, and I think that’s because I’d already spoken to so many people about doing it.”
Dita has also found that it fits into her life well. Being self-employed and not working a typical 9-5 job means she can offer daytime cover, while still going about her life as normal.
“There’s a gym just up the road so I’m able to carry on training very close to the station and then just do my longer runs when I’m not providing cover.”
As Ongar’s first female firefighter, Dita is proud to tell her friends and family about her latest accomplishment.
“They’re all amazed and impressed – they all want to talk to me about it all the time. They are just over the moon and the Ongar crew are just as supportive – they even threw me a barbecue when I passed my training.”
Dita has ambitions to become a wholetime firefighter in the future, and is determined that by keeping up the hard work and motivation she’ll continue achieving her goals.
“Before I came to the station I wondered how they were going to look at me and if they’d be thinking, ‘oh she’s a girl and she’s not going to be able to do it'."
“The feeling you get when the pager goes off is just pure anticipation. Even if it’s in the middle of the night, the buzz you get almost gets you out of the door and down to the station before you even realise!”
Adam Boorman is one of South Woodham Ferrers Fire Station’s newest on-call firefighter recruits.
By day, Adam works in ICT, but outside of office hours he could be called at any moment to be there for those in need.
That could mean a house fire, a road traffic collision, flooding or a whole host of other situations in which his fellow South Woodham Ferrers’ residents, and sometimes other communities, need his help – and the moment his pager sounds, he goes into firefighter mode.
“It is all about serving your community and the vast majority of the calls you’ll go to are in places you know.
“I really enjoy it and it’s such a rewarding job. I don’t find it disruptive to my life at all.
“It’s a great atmosphere to work in and because of the nature of the job you grow close to each other as a group.
“It’s nice because you end up relying on the people you work with and trusting them with your life – they might be strangers in the beginning but you soon become a real team.”
Adam points to that teamwork and being so well-respected by his community as the key parts of his job.
“When we’re out and about, we always get people waving to us – especially young children – which is really nice.
“As soon as they see the uniform, they show you so much respect. Straight away they know who you are and what you’re about – that’s a great feeling to be appreciated like that.”
Despite that, there’s so much more to being a modern day firefighter than just putting out fires.
Firefighters now often go out into their communities to meet and engage with residents, offering safety advice and helping make sure fires are prevented where possible.
“That’s a really important part of what we do; our community work. Getting out and about and visiting places like businesses and schools is really rewarding and I enjoy that, too.”
Adam is also a fully-trained LGV driver after completing a course to enable him to drive fire engines – just one example of the development opportunities available at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service.
“That course would cost something like £2,000 if I was going to pay for that myself. You get so many chances to improve yourself and learn new skills and I really appreciate that.”
"I don’t find it disruptive to my life at all."
“When I was young, I used to live directly opposite Leaden Roding Fire Station,” Chris Ward said. “I used to always look at it and think ‘one day I want to be a firefighter’ – and I’m really proud to say that I am now.”
Chris became an on-call firefighter at Leaden Roding three years ago. While he has since moved slightly further away from the station, he can still reach it within the required five minutes whenever his pager sounds – a feeling he says is like no other.
“Even after those years, when my pager goes off I still get that adrenaline rush… you can’t get that feeling anywhere else and it’s never changed.
“When I stop doing this, I’ll miss that because when I hear that sound I know I’m going to something that’s potentially serious to help people in need.”
In his day job, Chris works as an Engineer at Stansted Airport fixing various equipment and vehicles throughout the premises to keep one of the nation’s busiest runways moving.
Working 12 hour shifts for three days at a time, Chris balances his firefighter life by making himself available and on-call whenever he is at home or in the area.
“Whenever I have spare time I make myself available to offer cover. There’s genuinely such a good atmosphere here that I don’t see it as a bad thing being on-call or even on the station.
“We’re like a small family here – we’re all best mates. That’s the same right across the Service: even if you don’t know another firefighter you’re working with, you still get on with them – everyone wants to help each other.”
As part of a rural and close-knit community, Chris and his crew mates are often called to incidents in their local area. Naturally, that means the incidents involve their friends or people they know – something that motivates Chris to help even more.
“Because of the country roads around where we are, we get called to a lot of road traffic collisions, where people have driven too quickly or irresponsibly.
“Not long ago, we went to a collision involving someone who we all knew. In the end, it wasn’t too serious – she broke her collarbone – but I think she was reassured by the fact that we were all there to calm her down.
“Imagine if you were involved in a car accident and your mates turned up to cut the car apart and help you out – you’d be much more assured and feel calmer.
“I would much rather be there and able to help the people I know than just hear about what happened later on and wish I could have – that’s what being an on-call firefighter is all about.”
As a car enthusiast, Chris has also enjoyed learning about various vehicles he’s come across in his role as a firefighter – including how to safely release people who may be trapped in them.
“I’m really interested in cars, so learning about how they’re built and reinforced and then using our equipment to help people get out safely was something I found really rewarding.
“I also really enjoyed learning about the medical side. Not long ago, I did my First Person on Scene course (known as FPOS) – which teaches you about different parts of the body, how they work and how to help people suffering from things like major bleeding and burns.
“I think they’re skills everyone should learn – its basic life support and could quite literally make all the difference in a difficult situation.”
"When my pager goes off I still get that adrenaline rush"
The excitement and camaraderie associated with being a firefighter is like no other job.
James Boothby, 28, grew up in the town and has been protecting the community of Burnham-on-Crouch at a moment’s notice for two years.
James said: “I’ve lived here since I was 8. I went to school here, did engineering at college and then went to work full-time at a local restaurant, where I’ve worked ever since.
“Because Burnham is such a small area and a close community, everyone knows everyone. People know who you are and what you do, so there’s a certain level of respect that you get.
“It’s inevitable that you’re going to be going to incidents involving places and people you know and there are a lot of people who I deal with in my other job – customers of the restaurant – who recognise me.”
James joined the Service in 2016 and has since provided cover for most days and evenings, with the support of his other employer.
“My work is really good with accommodating my life as an on-call firefighter. A lot of the time, when I’m not literally cooking food, they let me go and be available.
“I really feel like I’m giving back to the community and I genuinely enjoy it.”
James points to the unity of the station group as one of the best things about their role – and how the crew’s relationship goes well beyond firefighting.
“We all trust each other – 100%,” James said. “If you don’t and you have doubts about someone behind you, you can’t be nearly as effective – so team work’s a massive part of what we do.
“As a group we often go to events and meals out. I go out with these guys more than I do with any of my friends from school or work.”
“I really feel like I’m giving back to the community and I genuinely enjoy it.”