Firefighter, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service
Hi, I’m Connor and I am a Development Firefighter in County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.
I have been a member of the YAAN for two years, advocating apprenticeships as an alternative to further education and viable career path for young people.
COVID19 has created challenging times for everyone, and this also applies to the emergency services, who quickly had to adapt to the increasingly dynamic environment while maintaining the high standards of service we all endeavour to provide to communities.
Life on a Fire Station is team oriented; most stations are separated into four watches (Red, White, Blue and Green), with each shift consisting five and ten people on one station at any one time for shifts lasting eleven hours on a day shift, and thirteen at night. There is a lot of movement between stations when people are sick or on holiday, people are detached in or others are brought in from on overtime to maintain fire cover across the county. This brings challenges when trying to reduce the spread of a virus, as the risk of cross contamination is high. Additionally, stations are used as centres for meetings, training and open days where visitors, other emergency services and members of the public can use the Station freely.
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service respond quickly to information provided by the Government, increasing communications regarding the washing of hands and reducing the rate and likelihood of infection. Daily updates continue to be provided to all members of the Service and working practices adapted along the way.
In terms of life on a Fire Station, this was a gradual but significant change. The first significant change we experienced was the suspending of all but the most necessary community engagement activities, and visitors to the station were restricted. Community engagement took up a lot of time on station, but we now have more time to train and maintain competency on the several hundred pieces of equipment we use.
For operational response, we have PPE, used at incidents where people may be symptomatic of COVID19, alongside procedures that update daily with Government advice. Crews maintain social distancing, decontaminating appliances and the station at the end of each shift.
As time progressed, Fire Control has ensured that movement of Firefighters between stations are kept to a minimum, with pools of people local to stations used for detachment and overtime. The Service has also looked for ways we can do more to help out, especially for colleagues in the NHS and North East Ambulance Service. Firefighters have been asked to volunteer driving and disinfecting ambulances, delivering of food and medication, and distributing hospital PPE.
My experience as an apprentice helped me in many ways to cope in these circumstances. Not only did I gain several qualifications in Community and Business Fire Safety to carry out my community engagement work effectively, but also further develop the soft skills that come with working in a constantly changing work environment. Every incident we attend varies wildly in risk and complexity; as Apprentice Firefighters we are trained and encouraged to dynamically risk assess situations to ensure our own safety, that of colleagues and the community.
Further training included the practical and more dangerous side of the job. As part of a team, I am able to help someone in their time of distress and need. I can navigate complex buildings in environments of extreme heat, smoke and darkness in search of casualties using breathing apparatus, extricate casualties trapped following road traffic collisions using cutting equipment, and reassure the public when situations may seem bleak. Finally, I’d like to thank all members of our community. I see many people doing what needs to be done, whether staying at home, looking after children or relatives in isolation or go to the frontline to provide retail, utilities, healthcare and emergency services. Each role is as relevant as the other in protecting our community at this very challenging time.