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Firefighter: Job description

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There's more to the firefighter job than extinguishing fires, installing smoke detectors and rescuing kittens from trees...

Firefighters respond to emergency situations and protect people, the environment and property from all types of accident and emergencies.

They work closely with the local community to increase their level of fire safety awareness in order to help prevent fires and accidents happening in the first place.

Promoting fire safety and enforcing fire safety standards in public and commercial premises, you'll act and advise on all matters relating to the protection of life and property from fire and other risks.

Working as a firefighter, you'll be continually learning - lectures, exercises, practice drills and other forms of training are an integral and on-going part of the job.

Types of firefighter

  • Wholetime firefighters generally work in urban areas and this is their full-time job.
  • Retained firefighters (on-call) tend to cover rural areas, responding to pagers when an emergency call is received. They typically live or work within five minutes or one mile of the fire station. Retained firefighters are usually either self-employed or have an employer willing to allow them to leave work immediately to attend an emergency.They have retained contracts based on different levels of commitment.


The role of a firefighter covers a diverse range of tasks, some you'll do every day while others are less frequent. They include:

  • responding immediately and safely to emergency calls and requests for assistance;
  • attending emergency incidents including fires, road accidents, floods, terrorist incidents, spillages of dangerous substances, and rail and air crashes;
  • rescuing trapped people and animals;
  • minimising distress and suffering, including giving first aid before ambulance crews arrive;
  • safeguarding your own and other people's personal safety at all times;
  • cleaning up and checking the site after dealing with an incident;
  • taking time to become familiar with local streets, roads and buildings so you can respond to emergency calls with speed and efficiency;
  • inspecting and maintaining the appliance (fire engine) and its equipment, assisting in testing fire hydrants and checking emergency water supplies;
  • undertaking drills and physical training and taking part in training on techniques, use of equipment and related matters;
  • maintaining the level of physical fitness necessary to carry out all the duties of a firefighter;
  • educating and informing the public to promote fire safety by giving talks in schools and to local organisations, as well as home visits to offer advice, etc;
  • maintaining links with the local community.

At management level, you'll perform extra supervisory activities which include managing operational incidents and directing the day-to-day tasks of personnel on fire stations. You'll find that the operational aspects of firefighting, although important, are a minor part of a senior manager's role in a large service. Responsibilities typically include:

  • assessing situations quickly and deciding on the best course of action;
  • directing the crew;
  • writing full incident reports;
  • fire investigation;
  • budget administration and control;
  • allocation of personnel and resources to achieve performance targets;
  • negotiating with representative bodies;
  • dealing with external agencies;
  • planning and resource management;
  • dealing with political aspects of the Fire and Rescue Authority (FRA).

Working hours

As a firefighter, hours of work typically include regular unsocial hours. Shift work is usual - most work two day shifts followed by two night shifts and then have four days off. However, different services employ different duty systems, depending on their needs. When necessary, paid overtime is worked.

What to expect

  • The work often takes place in dangerous and unpleasant conditions: in heat and cold, at heights, in enclosed spaces, in smoke-filled buildings, and in all kinds of weather conditions. You may be exposed to danger from collapsing buildings or vehicles, explosions and fumes. You need to be physically fit, as firefighters carry heavy equipment and breathing apparatus.
  • Job-sharing and part-time work are possible.
  • Although self-employment/freelance work may be possible, it's more likely after retirement in areas such as consultancy or training.
  • Women are currently underrepresented in the profession. However, the fire service is working to recruit more female and black and minority ethnic firefighters through positive recruitment strategies.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK. For an alphabetical list of fire and rescue services by region, see the Chief Fire Officers Association .
  • Smart appearance is important. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are required to be clean shaven to ensure the equipment can work effectively.
  • Travel within a working day is frequent. Absence from home overnight (other than rostered duty) and overseas work or travel is generally uncommon.
Written by AGCAS editors
July 2014

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