Do you think firefighters sit around drinking tea all day? Reporter Priya Mistry finds the reality is very different
People know that when an emergency call comes in firefighters spring into action.
The first few minutes are crucial and can be the difference between people losing homes, businesses, or even lives.
From the moment the siren rings in the fire station, it’s vital crews know the role they will play in an emergency call out.
But, with the number of fire calls falling year on year, what do firefighters do when they’re waiting for that siren to sound?
Far from sitting down and drinking cups of tea, days are filled with training and community outreach work.
The day begins with all crew members lining up, so they are given their duties, by the watch or crew manager.
This includes assigning firefighters to trucks, knowing who will be driving the engines, and what role they would play in an emergency.
Crews then moved onto watching training videos on identifying fire risks called back draughts and flashovers.
Then it was time to do the first, practical training on the two-day visit.
Both days looked at breathing apparatus (BA) training, and how to conduct search and rescues inside burning buildings.
Working in teams of four, each person is given a role, before they wear full fire gear – complete with full oxygen tanks.
‘The more you rehearse working with the equipment and in a team, the better equipped you are for a real emergency,’ explains crew manager Mark Jones.
‘What people may not realise is that firefighters don’t just go into a dangerous situation as this can endanger their lives and the lives of anyone trapped inside a building.
‘We do these exercises inside a building. Crews know how to conduct a proper search and rescue safely.
‘This means they can efficiently and effectively respond to emergency calls.’
The first exercise involves tying a piece of rope, which can be used as a safe guide to getting out of a building.
To simulate a smoke-filled room, the firefighters blindfold themselves, which means they rely on their sense of touch to spot dangers ahead.
Mark adds: ‘When you go into a building that’s quite alight, your vision is mainly restricted because of smoke.
‘You are most probably not familiar with the layout of the room.
‘But more importantly you don’t know if there is a hole on the floor because of the fire.
‘That’s why the lead firefighter of a team will go forward feeling the wall of a room, and tying a rope to several secure points.
‘Each firefighter is linked to the other, so that if a quick exit needs to be made, all members come out.
‘The idea is no one is left alone.’
During the training exercise, each firefighter uses their feet to check the ground in front of them for any potential hazards or casualties.
They also have an alarm strapped on to them, which will go off if they have been inactive for several minutes – a precaution that crew members are not in danger themselves.
During the training exercise the crew manager will make notes on what techniques are good and what improvements can be made.
After training, the trucks are sent out to pre-arranged environmental audits and to home safety visits.
Watch manager Kevin Lloyd-Spencer says: ‘Because we have been more proactive, there has been a reduction in the number of fires in the area.
‘We used to get around 2,200 calls in a year about a decade ago.
‘This has now fallen to about 1,000 a year.
‘We have made the community safer by being proactive.
‘We have to get to an incident in eight minutes, 80 per cent of the time.
‘At the moment we’re getting to 93 per cent of incidents within that time frame.’
Home safety visits include fitting smoke alarms, advising people on what to do in an emergency and how to reduce the risk of a fire starting in the first place.
After the community visits, firefighters return to the station and spend time in the on-site gym.
The following day crews carry out further BA training, but this time the task is to go into a smoke and heat-filled room.
Given a brief of how many potential casualties could be inside, the firefighters are despatched.
‘This is key for us,’ explains firefighter Richard Coe.
‘Making sure we train everyday is key to making sure we’re ready for emergency callouts.
‘And it’s also vital for those firefighters that have not been here so long to experience the real thing, so when you do get called out you’re not shocked by the type of heat.
‘When you’re working in such extreme temperatures you need to act quickly and safely, so the training kicks in in a real-life situation.’
He adds: ‘People could be hiding in all sorts of corners, or in cupboards, because they think it’s the safest place to be, and we need to be able to search as much as possible to get them out.
‘We always work in teams of two or more, so that no-one is left alone and your partner is always there to make sure you can get out.
‘They can also help you assess a situation and by working together you get more things done.’
Each fire engine also has a thermal-imaging camera, which can be used to help identify people and objects.
But during training these are not used.
‘It’s important firefighters can conduct searches without relying on them,’ says Richard.
‘The equipment always helps, but it’s better to know the basics.’
Mark adds: ‘We invite anyone to come to the station, so they can have a look at what we do and find out more about the fire service.
‘Rather than drinking tea all day, we’re constantly training to make sure we’re ready for a call, and going out into neighbourhoods, to make sure people prevent fires from occurring in the first instance.’