“Oh so you’re not a REAL firefighter?”

– and other misconceptions about retained/ on-call firefighters

With the exception of the London Fire Brigade – all of the United Kingdom’s Fire and Rescue Services utilise the Retained Duty System (RDS). The staffing model delivers a cost effective means of providing fire cover to areas where the level of risk is deemed low enough to afford an increased response time without detriment to the people, businesses and environment of the local area.

It’s important to remember that the Retained Duty System is a staffing model, just like the Wholetime Duty System or Day Crewed Duty System. The title refers solely to the work pattern and not to the role itself which is of course – firefighter.


Six or Half a Dozen?

Regardless of the duty system worked, a firefighter must undergo basic training, continuation training and ultimately competency in the role. The National Occupational Standards ensure that each firefighter displays the necessary level of understanding and performance in each area of the firefighter role map. It goes without saying that it will take a firefighter on the RDS much longer to complete their development phase as the number of incidents attended and secondary duties carried out will be a fraction of that of their wholetime colleagues, but what does remain the same across all shift systems is the standard that must be achieved before competency is gained.

The right choice for you

The Fire and Rescue Service is somewhat in a period of political unrest with uncertainty remaining around the lack of a pay rise in line with inflation and the demand from employers to carry out extra duties outside of current employment contracts.

Workplace representation is a personal matter and membership to unions such as the Fire Brigade Union or the Retained Firefighters Union is a decision made by individuals. It does however pay dividends to have an appreciation of issues surrounding all aspects of the Fire and Rescue Service and the affect they may have on different duty systems. What may be viewed by some as an opportunity to respond to more incidents and therefore earn more money in their secondary employment may be viewed by others as an expansion of contractual obligations without additional reparation in their primary employment.


As professional firefighters we must ensure we are always at the top of our game. This may mean reading up on a new policy or procedure or familiarising ourselves with a new piece of equipment. This is much more difficult when the FRS serves as secondary employment and the time spent on station is lower in comparison to wholetime duty staff.

One of the things that makes being a Retained Firefighter a commendable feat is the fact that as well as maintaining all of the above, RDS firefighters have to balance primary employment and home and social lives with their contractual obligation to provide on-call cover.

Being firefighter working the RDS is something to be very proud of and comes with a great level of commitment and self-sacrifice.

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FRS Team

Our team of experts have the many years of Fire Service experience and are up to date with the latest selection news.

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