A Day in the Life of an On-call (Part Time) Firefighter
Helen Robinson from Helmsley fire station tells us a bit about being an on-call firefighter.
I have been an on-call firefighter at Helmsley fire station for almost 2 years and really enjoy it. I initially joined to help boost the crewing numbers and keep the fire engine available in the local area. However, it’s provided me with new friends, a social life and a real sense of belonging to the community. Although I’ve only lived in the area for 4 years, I’ve got to know more people during my time as a firefighter than I ever did as a ‘housewife’!!
When I first applied, I tried to envisage how I would be able to provide cover and remain within 4 minutes of the fire station whilst still having some quality of life. I was a little worried about how it would fit in with my main employment in the fire service control room in Northallerton and my shift pattern, but everything has just sort of clicked into place. I can juggle the hours I am available so that I have suitable time before, between and after my day and night shifts.
On my days off from my main employment I try and get all my out of town activities done. This means I visit my mum in Northallerton straight after my last night shift, then call in at Lidl and Tesco at Thirsk to do my weekly shop and top up with diesel before heading back home to Helmsley to begin my cover mid afternoon. Although it’s a tiring day it means I don’t have to book off duty for half a day here and half a day there, plus I’m saving on my fuel because I’m not making repeat journeys!!
For the first couple of months of me having my alerter and being available for calls, I found I had to really think about what I was doing and when I was doing it! Little things like taking Boston “the dog” for a walk or dyeing my hair had to be planned for. I’m now in a routine where I book off for an hour every morning and evening so I can still enjoy quality walks with Boston. If I get back early I know I can still respond to incidents. As for dyeing my hair, I book off for an hour and make sure I’m done in that time – I would panic if I had to go out on a fire call with hair dye on!!
My husband has been really supportive even though it’s had an impact on him. At first he would ask me to go and help him up at his parent’s farm at short notice, and I would have to pop down to the station first to check there was enough crew available for me to head out of area for an hour. He’s now aware that he needs to give me a little warning if he wants us to go anywhere, so I can book off call and soon I’ll be able to alter my availability online which will make things easier. You soon get used to the system of booking on and off call.
The first couple of times my alerter went off during the night, my husband leaped out of bed and unlocked the back door for me whilst I got dressed. The novelty has obviously worn off because now he just says “drive careful babes”, turns over and is fast asleep before I’ve left the house! I get my own back with my cold feet when I return!!
In general, being on call has only meant a few little changes to my lifestyle. Things like always having suitable clothes (including socks) laid beside the bed ready to just jump into, having night lights in the hallway so I’m not fumbling in the dark for light switches and always knowing where my car keys are! My husband’s prepared to finish off cooking his own dinner or salvage a half baked cake from the oven if I get called out on a shout.
During the first year or so of being an on-call firefighter I have had to attend a number of courses at the fire service training centre in Easingwold. These courses are designed to expand my knowledge and skills in areas such as breathing apparatus, road traffic collisions and fire behaviour. It is also an ideal opportunity to participate in practical ‘hands on’ training in a realistic scenario but without the pressure of an operational incident.
All in all, becoming an on-call firefighter has been one of the best things I’ve done. I find it really rewarding to be a part of my local community and to provide such a valuable service. My colleagues have been really supportive and have really welcomed me into their group. I’m proud of myself for passing my 2 week recruits course (despite one of the recruits being young enough to be my son!!) and I’m looking forward to developing my skills further. It must be an infectious feeling because now my husband wants to join, so we may see another set of fire kit next to mine soon!! Watch this space!
I hope you've enjoyed reading my day in the life
Helmsley Fire Station