The journey from On-Call to Wholetime Firefighter

By James Meredith

I began my fire service journey in 2009 as an On-Call Firefighter (retained as it was then known), and was fortunate to be able to work out of a relatively busy station crewed by a long standing, well experienced team of Firefighters.

Unbeknown to me, this would serve me well in the years that were and still are to follow in what I hope will be a long and productive career in the Fire Service.

I had been in the role for roughly a year before I made my first application to become a Wholetime Firefighter. After missing a couple of recruitment campaigns elsewhere in the country, I realised I needed to actively seek out opportunities.

I started researching recruitment nationally and jumped at the first chance I got.

I realised very quickly that despite already being familiar with the application format, the competition to become a Wholetime Firefighter was much higher than I anticipated, and it was going to take a lot of work if I was going to stand out amongst thousands of other applicants.

It was a hard slog, with rejection after rejection over what would span several years applying for a role that I knew I was right for and wanted so badly to fulfil.

With each attempt, I learned a bit more about the process as well as my own strengths and weaknesses. I used this to my advantage and brushed up on areas I needed to improve.

As time progressed, the application format changed and I had to adjust my preparation to mirror this. I read books, paid for memberships to websites (where I could study for the constantly changing psychometric tests), immersed myself in the fire service PQA’s (personal qualities and attributes), and requested feedback at every opportunity.

Like many others, I also had post code restrictions to contend with, which prevented me from applying to numerous services around the country despite the fact I was willing to relocate to almost anywhere to do the job. This was frustrating to say the least.

I was also in full time employment alongside my role as an On-Call Firefighter, and spent time in several challenging roles, all of which enabled me to gain valuable work and life experience that would prepare me for my future career.

I gained experience in the steel industry through working in blast furnaces, and in on-site emergency response and health and safety. I also worked as a Community Safety Advocate and as a Fire Service Control Operator.

These experiences all added to my personal and professional growth that would help to build an application that would stand out.

At one point, I briefly lost sight of my goal and applied for a position as a Police Officer. I had become increasingly frustrated and felt demoralised after what I saw as repeated failed attempts, and began to question if I was ever going to make it.

I decided to entertain the idea of other permanent roles I could see myself in. However, I later turned down an interview with the Police as I realised this wasn’t the path for me. I had strayed off course and needed to get back on track.

More opportunities came my way and I threw everything I had at them, hoping something would stick. By now I knew the application process inside and out (as did my girlfriend who played a huge role in my eventual success), and it was surely just a matter of time until I had my moment.

Surely enough, two short years later, and after dogged determination and numerous applications to fire services around the UK over approximately six years, I was successful! And to top it off I even had the choice of two conditional offers at the same time!

It is now more than nine years since it all began. I have been a Wholetime Firefighter for two years, and can wholeheartedly say that the time I spent in various roles prior to where I am now helped shape who I am today and how I approach my work.

I hope other aspiring firefighters can take this as inspiration to persevere, and that rejection is not failure but an opportunity to learn and improve and use your potential in order to fulfil your ambition.

It is also important to be humble in the pursuit of that ambition, and to more importantly remain humble once it is attained. No one is owed a job as a firefighter, it is earned.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison

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