Do you want to do something vitally important for the Shaftesbury community? If so, have you considered joining the Fire Service?
The Shaftesbury fire station crew is hosting two ‘have a go’ sessions on consecutive Thursdays – the 18th and 25th of October. Station Commander Matt Scott said these drop-in events will offer residents a taste of working as part of the fire station team.
“They’ll be able to carry our equipment and try out our stuff. They get to go up and down the ladder and see what it is like to work at the heights we work at,” said Matt. He hopes to find at least six new recruits from the engagement exercises.
“The Fire Service know roughly how much we want each fire station to cost and we have room for half a dozen people. We are doing pretty well with keeping our fire engines equipped and crewed with people at the moment,” said Matt. But he said that he wants to make sure that there are new staff in place when existing crew retire or leave.
“There are people at our station who are a bit older and might be moving on. And there are people whose lives are developing and they might have children or a job that means that they move out of our community. We need to continually think about how we replace people, even though we’re not desperately short at this minute,” Matt said.
During the drop-in events, locals will be able to undertake some suitability tests, not all of them physical. “If somebody does not have a relevant English and maths qualification they could take a test to show us they have the skills.”
There’s practical testing too. “There will be running around and carrying stuff about. It is much less like going to a gym assessment and much more like practical assessment of whether you can be firefighter,” said Matt.
You might assume that fire crew are super-fit or very strong and have to spend hours in the gym each week. Firefighter Jonathan Purssell said that’s not the case. “We’re not like a club of triathletes but we do have to maintain a fitness level,” Jonathan said.
Another common misunderstanding may dissuade women from considering the Fire Service because they assume that they won’t fit in. “There are a lot of women in our community who think it is a male dominated environment. We have female firefighters at the station who they can talk to about those reservations.”
Matt and Jonathan want adults of all ages to attend the recruitment nights. Firefighters need to be at least 18 years of age but Matt says potential recruits can get in touch a little earlier. “When you get to 17½ , apply to us. Some time will go by before you’re actually working with us.” And there is no upper age limit within the fire service. “Certainly not. I joined when I was 47,” said Jonathan.
Matt says the fire station team share a wealth of life experiences. Anyone attending the drop-in events can find a like-minded firefighter to chat with. “There are people with all kinds of backgrounds in the fire and rescue service. People with all sorts of histories and there will generally be somebody that we can match them up to, so they can have a chat about how it would work for them,” said Matt.
The fire crew perform a vital role within our community but they are not expected to give up their time as volunteers. It’s not the same as the lifeboats, for example. Matt and Jonathan are looking to recruit paid fire crew.
“It’s a genuine, properly recognised, part-time job,” said Matt. “Everybody who works here receives an appropriate recompense for what they do. They are paid to be on call to us and we pay them for every hour they work for us. There is undoubtedly a link to being part of your community because nobody would do what we do as their only job. There is a nationally agreed rate for firefighters, which people will receive if they join us. The job that they do is exactly the same as in the stations in the bigger towns and cities. There’s the same training and the same equipment. We just don’t have the demand that requires us to have ten people sitting in our fire station every day. We need them to be on call from home, so we pay them a percentage of their work.”
Shaftesbury firefighters are referred to as ‘retained’, which means that they receive a monthly fee for being on call and additional pay when they attend a call-out. There are some rules governing how far away from the station that firefighters can live. “We consider applications for anybody who lives up to ten minutes away from Shaftesbury Fire Station. This also applies to all the other fire stations in the area. If you in Tisbury, Mere, Gillingham or Sturminster then they have the same situation,” said Matt.
If you work in Shaftesbury and could respond to callouts during the working day, from your place of employment, then Jonathan says that you’d be welcome to apply. “If you could provide daytime cover for us that would be fantastic. If your home is in Gillingham or Mere – and they need firefighters too – you could turn out for both your home and work stations.”
Matt was keen to stress how the fire service can benefit from the different work experiences of their fire crew. Jonathan is a farmer and he has brought extra knowledge to the team. “If we are going to an incident involving farm animals and they are in danger, I will look to Jonathan for his input,” said Matt, who continued to highlight the valuable experiences of other members of his team. “We have a lorry mechanic so when we go to a road accident involving a lorry, the first person we look to for help will be the lorry mechanic.”
If employers are flexible and allow their staff to attend fire shouts during the working day, then the workers’ fire service training could benefit their business. “We can help deliver them a more stable and resilient workforce,” said Matt. “If you can work at a fire station, we teach you skills that you might not need every day but they can help you cope with the stresses and pressures of everyday work. Sometimes the work you are doing is not quite as stressful as what you were doing the day before with us.”
The drop-in sessions are taking place this Thursday, 18th October and the following week, 25th October at 6pm. Matt says they will be very informal. “There is no regimented part to the evening. There isn’t a process where you have to move from A to B to C through the evening. There’s no a timescale. Come along, have a cup of tea and have a chat to us. If you like what the other guys are doing then have a go at it. Maybe the things that intimidate you are the things to try,” he said.
If you can’t go along on those dates, you can apply online or stop by on training night. “Every fire station in North Dorset trains on Monday evening. They are in their stations between 7pm and 9pm,” said Matt.
Jonathan and Matt believe that many locals will be surprised when they hear the facts about a modern firefighter’s roles and duties. There’s lots of misinformation over the requirements for the job. That’s why they’re urging Shaftesbury area residents to call in on Thursday to find out more. “It’s not for everybody, but I think a lot will be surprised by how many people it is for,” Jonathan said.