How to become a firefighter: Elis' story

Meet Ellis, 21, from North Wales. Find out about his life as a part-time, on-call firefighter. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

Ellis in his uniform standing in front of a fire engine.
"When I was young, I knew I wanted to be a firefighter."

How would you describe your job to others?

Some firefighters are employed full-time and it is their main job, whereas I’m an on-call firefighter and have a day job too. I’m a shop assistant and when I’m working I have to be within five minutes of a fire station. I am on call most of the time and I respond from work. We carry pagers, because we can get called to an emergency at any time.

Every day is different. In the shop, I could be serving a customer, having my lunch break, or out on deliveries. The pager could go off at any time. I have to drop my tools and respond.

Every Tuesday we have a training night, where we check our equipment and practise emergency scenarios. We need to make sure that we are ready for any type of emergency.

Was this a job you always knew you wanted to do?

When I was young, I knew I wanted to be a firefighter. We had one living next door to us. Seeing him going out when his pager went off and watching him come past the house with a fire engine with the sirens going, that set me off thinking I wanted to be a firefighter.

What was your educational career path?

I picked my GCSEs knowing I wanted a career in the fire service. I was told it would be good to take Geography and PE, and I got myself eight GCSEs. The Fire Service doesn’t always ask for specific qualifications, the important thing is you have the right skills and qualities, but having good grades in English (or Welsh in Wales) and Maths will help you pass the selection tests. I am a fluent Welsh speaker which can help in Wales.

I started the Fire Cadets midway through high school. It was the best thing I did, because I knew what to expect from the job. I learnt things like first aid training and hose running. It helped me get ahead of the game. At college, I did a Level 3 Public Service course. I finished my college course and a week after that I was at training school. I was 18.

What skills do you use at work?

Problem solving – once you get to an incident, straight away you have to see what the problem is and find a way to solve it. Teamwork – in most situations you work in a team to complete your task. Communication comes in there as you need to be able to communicate effectively. You need to be committed to get the job done. Discipline is also important because it’s a uniformed service, so you have to make sure your behaviour is right.

Ellis working in the shop.
Ellis works as a shop assistant in his day job.

Top tips

  • Work hard in school, get your grades, and ask what the best educational path for your chosen career is. Make the most of career advisors in school

  • I had help from Careers Wales, and I spoke to one of the workers in school. They showed me what skills I needed. I asked as many people as I could

  • The first part of my training was pretty tough – that’s where they test your commitment and discipline. You constantly have to work hard in your assessments.

What to expect if you want to be a firefighter

Elis' role in the fire service is slightly different, as he works on a part-time, on-call basis. However, if you are interested in becoming a full-time firefighter, here's what to expect:

  • Firefighter salary: £22,908 to £30,533 per year (or £26,211 to £34,975 in London)
  • Firefighter working hours: 41 to 43 hours per week
  • Typical entry requirements: Most fire services take on new recruits once every 12 months, so you’ll need to find out when they are recruiting next. You can ask your local fire and rescue service for a firefighter recruitment pack which should include information about the kinds of skills they are looking for in new employees. You could prepare to apply to be a firefighter by doing a Level 2 award, certificate or diploma in Fire and Rescue Services in the Community with your local fire and rescue service.

This information is a guide (sources: London Fire Brigade, LMI for All, National Careers Service)

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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