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Being A Firefighter – A Career With Purpose.

Have you ever thought about becoming a Firefighter? It’s a solid career path. But, you need to know where to look for job openings, the requirements than need to be in place for you to be considered for the role, and how to apply.

What does being a Firefighter involve?

It’s a lot more than putting out fires – and there’s rarely a ‘typical’ week! Firefighters are an integral part of their community, evacuating buildings, rescuing people who are involved in road traffic collisions, carrying out animal rescues, being on standby at public events, and working to educate their community on fire safety.

There’s also

  • School visits
  • Preventative services like smoke alarm fitting and checks
  • Attendance at at major incidents such as chemical spills, terrorist threats or natural disasters.
  • Firefighters will also carry out safety checks on commercial premises, complete risk and health and safety assessments,
  • Ensure the safety of vulnerable members of the community, investigate causes of fires

…it’s an incredibly varied, challenging and rewarding career.

What’s the difference between Whole-time and Retained/On-Call Firefighters?

Wholetime Firefighters have full time contacts and work set shifts. They generally work in urban areas or those with higher populations.

Retained firefighters are ‘paid volunteers’ who are on-call.  They usually have other employment or responsibilities. Retained firefighters are available to the Fire and Rescue Service for a set amount of hours per week. Therefore, they’re usually based in more rural areas with lower populations, and need to live within 5 minutes from their assigned station.

What are the Basic Requirements for the Role?

Firefighters in the UK come from a wide range of backgrounds. There are over 50 Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) in the UK, each covering a set area, and each has slightly different requirements and application processes. 

Qualification wise the general minimum requirements are a pass in GCSE English and Maths, or equivalent. This is the standard needed to pass the psychometric ability tests which are part of the application process (more on these later). However, some FRSs will let you sit an entry test in lieu of this, and others will look at life and work experience over ‘paper’ qualifications. 

A few basic requirements that will be in place for the majority of FRSs.

  • You must be over the age of 18 (some FRSs will let you apply at 17, provided you will be 18 by the time training begins.
  • You must have the right to live in the UK
  • You must be eligible to work in the UK

You’ll also need to:

  • Hold a full UK driving licence. Some FRS’s will accept you if you’re in the process of getting one, or if you’re willing to get one within a specified time of beginning training.
  • Be confident in and around water, and have the ability to swim at least 100 metres unaided
  • Have no known phobia of heights or enclosed spaces
  • Pass the required medical health checks, including eyesight tests
  • Meet the required physical fitness standards

Training will normally take 12-18 weeks and cover the practical and theoretical basics you need for the role. After passing your initial training you’ll be on a probation period for two years. During this time you’ll need to keep records to demonstrate that you have met all the requirements detailed in your role map.

How do I apply to be a Firefighter?

Most UK FRSs have an annual recruitment drive for Whole-time positions, and recruit retained Firefighters at various points throughout the year, or on an ongoing basis. 

Generally you will need to live in the postcode for the FRS you are applying for. Be prepared in advance as some FRSs will close the process early if they receive a high volume of applications.

Again, the process will vary slightly from FRS to FRS, but you can expect the application and recruitment process to include:

  • Online Application. Including personal details, education and employment history, and questions on why you think you’d be a good fit for the role.
  • Psychometric Ability Tests. Usually these are completed online, and will involve multiple choice questions in the areas of verbal, numerical, and mechanical reasoning.
  • Behavioural Questionnaires. Multiple choice, and usually online.
  • Physical and Fitness Testing. Including physical activities specific to the Firefighter role (casualty ‘dummy’ evacuations, working with ladders, exercises wearing breathing apparatus and full PPE)
  • Assessment Centre. This could be in-person or virtual, and might include activities like group discussions, presentations or role-plays.
  • One to one interview.
  • Medical and background checks. Including a criminal record check.

Diversity in the Fire Service

Diversity and inclusion is incredibly important to the UK Fire Service. They pride themselves on being an equal opportunities employer and welcome applicants from all genders, backgrounds and cultures.

To make things easier for people who may feel intimidated by the application process many FRSs now have ‘have a go’ days, or ‘taster’ days, specifically for specific genders, or ethnic minority or LGBTQ+ applicants.

A strong awareness of the importance of diversity, and a positive commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion, is a critical attribute for any Firefighter. You will be required to demonstrate this to the FRS you are applying to.

What are the other important Attributes of a Firefighter?

Each FRS will have their own mission statement and role map for their Firefighters. However they will include the following attributes in one form or another:

  • Firefighters need to be understood by others through Effective Communication skills.
  • Firefighters need to evaluate risks and find solutions, using Problem Solving capabilities.
  • Firefighters need to be trusted to care equally for the welfare and security of all members of the public because of their Commitment to Diversity and Integrity.
  • Firefighters need to support the positive reputation of their FRS through a genuine Commitment to Excellence

The FRS you are applying to will also be looking for applicants who have a strong work ethic, who can remain calm and collected under pressure, who can work well as a team (and look out for their team) as well as having the initiative to think for themselves and make rapid decisions in a high-pressure environment.

Career Progression for Firefighters

There’s a lot of scope for progression within Firefighting for those who aspire to it.

  • Firefighter to Crew Manager or Commander
  • Crew to Watch Manager or Commander
  • Watch Manager to Station Manager or Commander
  • Station to Group Manager or Commander
  • Area to Brigade Manager or Commander

There’s also ‘In-band’ promotion, where you progress to the next level but remain within the same managerial ‘band’ – for example Supervisory, Middle or Strategic.

Your FRS and line manager will let you know what the eligibility requirements are for you to apply for promotion. Most FRS require a line manager to validate an application and sign off their support for your career move.

The application and recruitment process for Firefighters is challenging, and competitive. There are often far more applicants that positions available. This is where FRS Development can help. 

Our site and products help Firefighter applicants through every step of the process, from completing the application form correctly, to acing the interview, to developing your career within the Fire Service. We also have specific guides detailing the selection process for different UK FRSs.

Browse our site and blog here, or drop our friendly customer service team an email at team@frsdevelopment.com with any questions you might have about beginning your Firefighter journey!

Check out our careers page for information on other careers