Hopes Covid-19 home working could help plug firefighter gaps

Norfolk firefighter Michelle Lowe.

Michelle Lowe, who is an on-call firefighter with Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service. - Credit: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Fire chiefs trying to plug a shortage of on-call firefighters hope the Covid-19 triggered switch to home working will mean more people come forward to help protect Norfolk.

As of the end of last month, there were 36 retained firefighter vacancies across the county, which Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service is keen to recruit to.

Crews need a certain quota of firefighters before they can go out, so appliances from further afield have to attend if that is not possible.

The Fire Brigades Union says £2m could also pay for 65 firefighters Picture: Ian Burt

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service are hoping to fill on-call firefighter cover gaps. - Credit: Archant

The fire service has struggled for years to recruit enough - because retained firefighters must live or work within five minutes of an on-call station.

Lifestyle changes meant people's working patterns changed, with many living away nowhere near where they work.

But fire chiefs believe the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to more home working, might mean becoming a retained firefighter is now more of an option for people.

Stuart Ruff, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Stuart Ruff, Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service's chief fire officer. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

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Chief fire officer Stuart Ruff said: “In Norfolk, there is a particular need for daytime cover at some of our rural stations and with more people now working from home in their primary career, they could be the perfect candidates.

“We are really grateful to employers across Norfolk who release staff to be able to commit to supporting their communities.

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"Employing on-call firefighters brings great benefits to our service, to local communities and to those businesses as their staff learn a range of transferable skills.

"We’re not looking for a particular type of person as every member of our team brings something different and valuable.

"If you are interested please contact us - let us help you to see what you might be able to achieve.”

Retained firefighters are paid for being on call and carry an alerter to respond to 999 calls.

There are vacancies at Attleborough, Dereham, Diss, Downham Market, East Harling, Great Yarmouth, Heacham, Hingham, Holt, Hunstanton, King’s Lynn, Loddon, Massingham, Outwell, Reepham, Sandringham, Swaffham, Watton, Wells, West Walton and Wroxham.

The Norfolk call comes as part of the #WeNeedMore campaign run by the National Fire Chiefs Council.

For more information visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/oncallfirefighter

Case Study

For Michelle Lowe, a career in the fire service was always on the cards.

Her grandfather was a watch manager at Stalham and her father is still a serving crew manager.

But, her other love is horses and she successfully runs her own yard, teaching riding, offering equestrian rehabilitation services and competing in events.

Michelle Lowe

Michelle Lowe combines her firefighter role with running an equestrian yard. - Credit: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

She joined the service in 2007 and has enjoyed being able to combine her two dream jobs.

She is now the watch manager at Stalham and an instructor at the service's Bowthorpe Training School.

She said: “To me, it was always about joining Stalham, being part of the team and helping the community.

"There are lots of opportunities to progress within the service once you are a competent firefighter, if you want them.”

Case Study

Norfolk firefighter Peter Oxford.

Retained firefighter Peter Oxford. - Credit: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

Peter Oxford is an on-call firefighter at Downham Market, but also works as an electrician.

He said: “Responding to people in their time of need is really rewarding and it’s great to feel part of a team that is constantly adapting and learning as demands on the service change.

"Now we are able to use mobile phones to give our availability, it’s easy for me to tell the service when I am available for duty and when I’m not.

"This means that I can be really flexible depending on what is happening with my working day, and my colleagues and employer are supportive if I need to go.

"Equally, I am flexible too and if I have been out on a fire call, I’ll stay a bit later to get my work finished.”

Peter Oxford

Peter Oxford combines being an electrician with being a retained firefighter. - Credit: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

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