Watches; one of the backbones of the Fire Service
A group of people who are more like a family. A group of people you know you can share any of your problems with and a group of people that when you need them they will have your back.
Changes to the Watch way of life
Unfortunately though over the last few years, some FRS’s are moving away from Watches and that close knit team. Some Firefighters suspect that its partly because Services can see them as an obstacle, an entity to themselves. Organisations themselves will suggest its about efficiency. Firefighters aren’t too sure. I have been on and known some really strong Watches over the years. Some managers have seemed to have an issue with them, perhaps because they feel they are difficult to manage. That could be more to do with the managers and their leadership skills than the Watch.
What new Firefighters may find..
In some FRS, new probationary firefighters are now coming out of training school and instead of being given a posting which is permanent, are expected to be more flexible e.g. working in a crewing pool, on day shifts only or being moved from Watch to Watch, Station to Station to experience different equipment and stations. Although this approach can have benefits, in my opinion, it generally doesn’t work as well.
Why you really need a Watch..
Some Firefighter training courses have got shorter, some from 16 weeks to 8. Although my initial Firefighter training course got me set up and ready to ride a fire engine, I believe that I learned and perfected my skills with my Watch, with people who cared, people who were invested in helping me be my best because I reflected on them. Unfortunately some of the new recruits are not having the same experience I was lucky enough to benefit from. Some say they don’t feel like they belong when they move Watches, and that no-one is really taking ownership of them.
Now some people will read this and think ‘and??’ They are coming in filling short falls, they are qualified FFs so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that at 3 in the morning, with a persons reported house fire; you can pre-empt what your team are going to do because you train and work with them day in and day out. You know what their strengths and weaknesses are, you know how to get the best out of them, and if God forbid something happened to me in there, they would drag me out or die trying.
You won’t get on with everyone on a Watch, some people you will have to tolerate, but there is a special bond between you. So I’m not sure about this new approach. It might work for some people; it might be more convenient to those wanting more flexibility or a range of different experience or even different hours. It might make the Service easier and more efficient to run. But to me, it means losing something irreplaceable and that simply isn’t worth losing.