Could you be an on-call firefighter?

Ken Ashby, the on-call firefighters recruitment officer for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Picture; SUFFOLK

Ken Ashby, the on-call firefighters recruitment officer for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Picture; SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

A number Suffolk’s fire stations currently recruiting for on-call firefighters, so what does the job entail?

What is an on-call firefighter?

On-call firefighters are part-tme officers who live close to their respective fire stations so they can be called to incidents during the day and at night.

They are paid a retaining fee along with an allowance for drills and attending incidents.

The remains of the plaza at Centre Parcs after the blaze in 2002 Picture: Andy Abbott

The remains of the plaza at Centre Parcs after the blaze in 2002 Picture: Andy Abbott

What is the recruitment process like?


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Becoming an on-call firefighter is a rigorous process. Each prospective applicant has to go through a series of physical and written tests to be considered for the role, as well as an interview, and medical tests.

If successful, recruits then do a number of weeks of training to get to grips with the skills and techniques required to be an on-call firefighter.

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What is it like being an on-call firefighter?

Ken Ashby is a former on-call firefighter and current on-call firefighter recruitment officer for Suffolk Fire and Rescue.

"I was on an on-call firefighter for 40 years," said Mr Ashby.

Having become a butcher after leaving school Mr Ashby started out as an on-call firefighter, training up to become a wholetime firefighter after a few years.

Based initially at Newmarket, Mr Ashby remained on-call during evenings and weekends when the station was shut.

Mr Ashby said that over the years the job had left an impression.

"The road traffic collisions stay in your mind for a considerable time," said Mr Ashby.

"We do see some atrocious accidents but also fires as well.

"I can remember going to the huge Centre Parcs fire at Elveden in 2002."

Aside from the more serious incidents Mr Ashby said he and his colleagues had also been called to a range of unusual incidents and even the odd cat up a tree.

Who are on-call firefighters?

Those that take on the role of an on-call firefighter reflect a wide spectrum of society.

"They come from all walks of life; plumbers, carpenters, butchers," said Mr Ashby.

Mr Ashby said that having such a varied group of people meant they were able to bring their specialised skills to incidents.

"We really do rely on employers releasing on call firefighters," said Mr Ashby.

He said that last summer had been a particularly difficult time as a result of the heat and the number of open fires service had been called to.

"Fortunately this summer has not been as hot," said Mr Ashby.

"We expect that they are wanting to put a service to the community and give something back," said Mr Ashby.

Why do people become on-call firefighters?

He said there was a range of reasons as to why people did become firefighters.

"Recently someone joined after they lost a relative in a fire and they wanted to give back," said Mr Ashby.

"They give 120 hours a week and are valuable members of the community," said Mr Ashby.

"We ask a lot of our on-call firefighters, it impacts on their work life, their family life and their social life."

What recruitment issues are Suffolk Fire Service facing?

Few on-call firefighters end up spending the amount of time that Mr Ashby has with the service, however, especially these days.

"On average on-call firefighters don't stay more than five or six years," said Mr Ashby.

"They either move on or move away. They don't stay in the job as long as we would like."

Mr Ashby said that some areas were harder to recruit for than others, particularly on the east coast. "Some stations we don't have to advertise for but times have moved on, people don't work in the villages they live in," said Mr Ashby.

"So there are more difficult places like Eye and Saxmundham."

Overall, Mr Ashby said that the service were treading water when it came to the number of on-call firefighters it had available with around a 10% turnover each year.

He said that recruitment wasn't a problem unique to Suffolk but was an issue that was reflected more nationally.

"I would say to people please apply to become an on-call firefighter. We want to hear from you," said Mr Ashby.

"It's a very rewarding career and you can give back."

Applications to become an on-call firefighter close on September 2.

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