The Manic Minute
"When I heard the harsh vibration of the pager, I'd begin to count-down the seconds in my mind — 60, 59, 58 ... ," says Gideon.
grew up as the step-son of a Firefighter. We lived in a house right next to the station where he worked. This meant watching or listening to him and his colleagues as they responded to incidents at all times of day and night. The familiar soundscape would play out like clockwork, so well-rehearsed that you could practically set your watch to it. I would hear the beep-beep beep-beep
and the harsh vibration of his pager, and begin counting down in my head. 60, 59, 58…
By the time I had gotten to 45 shoes had been pulled on, keys jangled into a hand or pocket, and then a cascade of front doors thumping shut could be heard all around our close. About a minute later, there would be a whoosh and a dieseling roar as the fire engine would launch itself from the station, swinging across the forecourt. Sirens blaring and blue lights flashing, it would catapult down the road to wherever it was needed.
Whilst the jobs weren’t always dangerous or exciting, the crews prepared themselves to work in and witness situations that most people can hope to experience only once or twice in a lifetime, and were willing to insert themselves into those moments with the purpose of rescuing, reassuring, and serving those who could not do so for themselves.
I knew that this was the same kind of person I wanted to be, and for the last 5 years, I have been. I joined the On Call watch from Kidlington fire station in March 2015 as a second job, during the first year of an engineering apprenticeship at the University of Oxford.
The recruitment process was a little daunting at first. It involved both psychometric and physical tests, but being fairly competent with numbers and reasoning, and of a good standard of fitness, they were not actually too difficult; I was definitely challenged, but everything was achievable.
The basic training was fun and engaging. I learned how to do things which I had never done before, such as tying knots to secure and haul equipment, and operating fireground pumps and hydraulic cutting gear.
One of the most satisfying aspects of training for me was the ladder pitching; to safely slip, pitch, and lower a 13.5-meter ladder weighing 100Kgs in varying weather conditions requires real discipline and teamwork, and the trust that everybody knows how to perform their role.
My first blue light incident was at sheltered accommodation associated with a local mental health hospital. We were called to a fire started by a cigarette butt in a waste paper bin. When we arrived, it was chaos.
The fire hadn’t actually caused much damage, and had been extinguished by the occupant of the room. However, the other residents had been scared by the smoke and alarms, and many of them were running about followed by staff, police officers, and paramedics who were trying to ensure that nobody had been hurt.
A crewmate and I were directed to check that there were no other people still in the house. Satisfied that it was empty, we set about making the scene safe.
As part of our practice, I was tasked with sawing up some of the floorboards to check for possible unseen fire spread; this is part of declaring the building safe for re-entry. It's something most people might not think to look for, but to know things like this, about otherwise hidden risks, is a vital part of our training and our work.
I know that job was not what most people might imagine the day-to-day work of a firefighter to be, but it goes to show how varied and unusual working for the fire service can be; you get to see a side of life which most people are never exposed to.
Working as a firefighter has had a huge impact on my life. In return for the time dedicated, I have developed a strong sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. I am capable of communicating well and performing with a clear head when under pressure, and have become fitter, stronger, and more knowledgeable.
I have made good friends and shared some great moments, as well as meeting members of the public who have been kind, helpful, and generous both towards my crew and those we are called to help.