Career as a fireman

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Gary Pilkington is a firefighter based at an airfield. He is specially trained to deal with aircraft on fire which may involve entering a burning plane to rescue passengers.

What is involved in your job?

Aircraft accidents are rare but in the event my main role is to save life and to minimise damage to property and aircraft. Each day, about 7,000 aircraft take off and land at UK airfields and the aviation industry has a very good safety record. There are other tasks, which I undertake on a daily basis. These range from appliance and equipment maintenance to airfield safety duties. Also, we do regular training.

What training did you receive initially?

I attended various courses at the International Fire Training College (IFTC). This covered most fire fighting duties with both practical and theory work. Once qualified, you can apply for roles within the aviation fire service industry.

What training do you do regularly?

We constantly train for any eventuality ranging from a simple engine fire during start up to the crash of an aircraft on the runway. We train using all of our equipment in order to practise techniques and safety procedures.

We have a replica plane made of steel which is used repeatedly to stimulate a burning machine. When there is a fire inside, the smoke stops you seeing anything in front of you except through the visor of your breathing mask. The temperature is about 2000 deg C and you have to search and rescue 10 simulated casualties. It is training like this that makes the role exciting and stimulating.

What equipment do you use?

We operate a wide range of equipment such as specialist fire appliances with pressurised water and foam systems, hydraulic and pneumatic rescue equipment, first aid and medical equipment.

For our personal protection, we use breathing apparatus which allows firefighters to safely operate in smoke and toxic conditions.

What was your route to your career as a fireman?

I was an apprentice in the airport vehicle workshops and gained a BTEC National Certificate in motor vehicle engineering. During my apprenticeship, I regularly worked on the fire appliances and some of the equipment used at the fire station. I developed an interest for the fire service and decided to become a fireman.

Do you have a typical day?

A typical day at the fire station starts by taking over from the shift that has been on duty through the night. The first job is to check the fire vehicles and equipment and make sure that everything is in good working order.

You are required to maintain a level of physical fitness and we all take part in physical training such as gym work and team activities, which include volleyball.

What hours do you work?

We work shifts of 12 hours, the day shift starts at 7.15 am until 7.15 pm and the night shift is 7.15 pm to 7.15 am, the following day. The shift pattern is two day shifts followed by two night ones and then we get four days off.

What are the pros and cons of your job?

What I like best about my job is that you never stop learning. I work with a good set of colleagues and enjoy operating in a team environment. At times, working unsociable hours and through the night is not very enjoyable.

What are your long-term career goals?

Currently, I am on a personal development programme, which will help me to progress to the position of crew commander.

What are the skills and qualities needed to be a fireman?

It is very important that you are able to work as part of a team. We need to be able to deal with unexpected situations and in very difficult working environments. Good communication skills are important and you must be self-disciplined. The job can be very physically demanding and you must be able to cope with heavy lifting, working in confined spaces and in high temperatures.

Gary's route to becoming a fireman

  • GCSEs.
  • BTEC National Certificate in Auto Vehicle Engineering.
  • Civil Aviation Authority fire fighting qualifications.

Gary's tips

  • Try and learn as much as possible about the job and the whole aviation industry before you attend an interview.
  • Keep your physical strength and fitness to a good level.

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Salary of a fireman

  • Salaries vary between authorities and organisations.
  • On starting, a fireman earns about £16,000 rising to £23,000 with experience.

How to become a fireman

  • Airport fire services recruit their own firefighters and application should be made to the nearest airport. Similarly, you need to apply to individual fire service authorities.
  • There are far more applicants than vacancies and a minimum standard of secondary school education is essential such as five GCSE/S grade (A-C/1-3) passes, including maths, English and a science-related subject.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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