A Day In The Life Of A Firefighter

Having secured a partnership with Suffolk Constabulary in our sister publication Student Life, it was time to turn our attention to the Fire & Rescue Service.  Following recent meetings with the powers that be, at the end of last month; our editor, Danielle & Jack joined ‘Green Watch’ for a behind the scenes look at life as a firefighter.

Remembering as a youngster, waving at fire engines and their crews as they passed by, I was delighted that we were about to start collaborative working with the Service and keenly looking forward to meeting the team for an access all areas visit, which we had already been told would involve training drills covering a road traffic collision (RTC) and using breathing apparatus (BA).

We arrived in time for Green Watch’s roll call, delivered by Watch Commander Dave Edwards, where the 5-strong team would have its day’s roles relayed.  You could immediately feel the closeness of the guys and the banter started straight away, although you sensed a degree of self-control for their guests’ benefit!

Dave then showed us around the two appliances and the additional truck & boat trailer, whilst his colleagues carried out the daily task of checking all equipment, in readiness for the possibility of the first ‘shout’ of the new shift. 

We were then introduced to Dobbin.  Dobbin stands at roughly 20 hands tall and is the Station’s manmade horse!  The model is used to simulate animal rescues and whilst looking quite lifelike, Dave assured us that, being inanimate, Dobbin doesn’t always demonstrate the same characteristics of an actual animal in distress!  

Next was our chance to see the Watch in action, as they set up a mock RTC.  This was to involve a car having its roof cut off, followed by someone being lifted out to safety on a paramedic board – cue volunteer Danielle!  Despite the absolute professionalism and care that the guys took in extracting the ‘driver’, the unfolding scene was a stark reminder of the role of a firefighter.

Drill complete and in awe of what we had just witnessed, we retired to the first floor break-out area, where coffee, tea and biscuits were plentiful and we had a chance to meet the ‘other’ Green Watch, as the team from the second fire station in the town – Ipswich East near Ransomes, joined us in readiness for the BA drill.

After a thorough safety briefing, where both teams were informed where they would be searching, it was time to don breathing apparatus – cue Danielle again! - and make the way into the smoke-filled ‘house’. 

Once the door closed, the area was plunged into complete darkness and the reality of the situation set in. Using a specialist hand-held camera, heat spots led to the source of the smoke, as teams of 2 made their way around the building - one person in front, checking for obstacles and guiding the hose in; the other person immediately behind, using their arms and feet to scour the area for casualties. One team was instructed to follow the left hand wall, the other team the right - this ensured all areas were covered and the same areas weren’t checked twice. 

The organisation and teamwork were fluid - both teams found their ‘casualties’ extremely quickly, with just a head torch for guidance. 

Our fascinating day was almost complete, but there was still a chance to sit down with our day’s host for a 1-2-1.

51 year-old Dave has been in the Service for 25 years and is due to retire next year.  His background includes 6 years in the Parachute Regiment, so having served his country in the Army, what led to joining another life-on-the-line career?

“It was a simple swap from one similar style of career to another” says Dave “It was either this or the police force”.  

Whilst there is no such thing as a normal or routine shift, or a routine ‘shout’; Dave said that AFA’s, RTC’s and house fires are the most common incidents, followed closely by animal rescues.  I asked him about the obvious comradery in the Watch.

“We get to know each other very well over the years and socialise together.  It goes beyond the day-to-day”.

And the PR side of the job?

“We are invited to schools and interact a lot with the local area” confirms Dave.  “We also carry out high-risk visits and general fire-safety inspections within the local business community.  We visit a lot of student accommodation and the local campus’ and have demonstrated the RTC drill to the students in an awareness effort.  Added to that is the fact that we will visit the 10 neighbouring properties to a house fire (a service called Hot-spotting), with advice and of course, we will always offer to install detectors, if and when asked”.

Dave is also passionate about community engagement and sees his and colleagues’ role as vital in helping to signpost vulnerable people to other agencies.

Finally, the best part of the job?

“Helping” says Dave without hesitation and with that succinct answer, our time with Green Watch is at an end.  A fantastic day, with a fantastic group of true life-savers.

WaterfrontCarly Frances