Struggle to find part-time firefighters

RETAINED fire stations in Suffolk are struggling to maintain 24-hour emergency cover because employers are no longer willing to free staff to serve as firefighters, it was claimed today.

By Tina Heath

RETAINED fire stations in Suffolk are struggling to maintain 24-hour emergency cover because employers are no longer willing to free staff to serve as firefighters, it was claimed today.

Speaking out in a bid to highlight the problems of recruitment, Area Commander Barry Cole revealed how two of the five stations under his charge are experiencing a chronic lack of firefighters and Hadleigh is often forced to operate with only a skeleton crew.

"Fewer and fewer employers are allowing their employees to leave work, which is understandably in the current economic climate but makes it very difficult for us to achieve full cover," said ADO Cole, who oversees fire stations in Hadleigh, Sudbury, Nayland, Long Melford and Clare.

He revealed that Hadleigh fire station is operating without its full compliment of 11 firefighters. Nayland is experiencing "dire" problems with only eight firefighters when they need 11 and Sudbury fire station desperately needs five people to join the crew.

Availability is one of the biggest problems in recruiting firefighters, with daytime cover generally the hardest to find. Crew members must be at the station within five minutes of being called so living or working close to the station is also a priority.

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"Our full compliment at Hadleigh is 11 and we are down to 10 at the moment. It's not serious but we can lose a couple and that puts us in the mire," said ADO Cole.

"The more availability that someone can offer the better chance they have of being accepted."

Depending on availability retained firefighters are on call for up to 24 hours a day. All retained members respond to an emergency call and try to make it to the station as soon as possible. A fire engine can leave with a minimum of four crew members, if a station is not able to make up the compliment their appliance is declared 'off run' and the next closest pump to the incident will be sent.

"Daytime cover is probably the most important and difficult to get. If we have a fire at night time we would probably get eight or nine turn up so we can have spare but in the day time we can be down to four or even worse than that," added ADO Cole of the situation at Hadleigh station.

While staff will have to leave work at a moment's notice, employers may not realise that there are benefits to having trained firefighters as employees, he continued.

As well as firefighting techniques, training focuses heavily on teamwork and can include first aid or picking up an LGV licence. Retained firefighters often act as fire marshals or wardens at their place of work.

But being tied to the desk is not the only reason why recruitment to the fire service is experiencing a slump, according to ADO Cole.

"The fire service has a macho image and we would like to step back from that. We are not receiving applications from women and ethic minorities, which we welcome, and this is party because people see us as macho, white male dominated."

Sub Officer in charge of Hadleigh, Matt Barber, started with the fire service ten years ago when he was aged 18. He encouraged new recruits to come forward.

"It's the best job in the world. I've got a whole new family, ten brothers down here I wouldn't have known.

"You get a buzz serving your local community. Being retained you are working in an area where you live. We know the people we help."


Before applying to be a firefighters, you must

N Be aged over 18.

N Have a good level of fitness

N Be of good character, with no current criminal convictions.

N Ideally live or work within five minutes of the fire station.

There is no upper age limit or height restriction.


N Depending on availability firefighters can be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

N You are paid a annual retaining fee which starts at £1,800 and rises to £2,000 after three years.

N The first six firefighters to respond to their emergency bleeper are paid £13 turn out fee. If you arrive at the station but miss the departing fire engine you are paid £7.50

N You are expected to attend 47 drill nights a year, paid at a flat rate of £12 a session. You are entitled to five weeks holiday.

N New recruits need to complete three one week training courses in their first two years service.

If you would like more information on joining Suffolk Fire Service call 01473 588888 and ask for personnel.