On-Call Firefighters - their stories

Our on-call firefighters describe their journey into the Fire Service

Elaine Timmis

After nine years as an on-call firefighter, Elaine Timmis has had no cause to back-track on her reason for joining the service.

“If I’m totally honest, I joined up because I thought it sounded as if it would be fun,” said the 31-year-old, who is based at the Baschurch station. “And it definitely has been.” Elaine comes from a farming family and has a busy role to play within the business. “We have a farm shop and café which I run,” she said. “And I also assist in running our new sporting venture – the only polo club in Shropshire. “It’s not been a problem balancing my work life and being an on-call firefighter. “If we are short-staffed, then my business has to come first and sometimes I have to book more time off than I would like to, but generally it works very well.”

Elaine says that she gets called out perhaps 10-15 times each month and the reality of life as an on-call firefighter was quickly brought home on one of her early ‘shouts’.

“We were outside a building that was on fire and the officer in charge said to one of my colleagues whom I had trained with: ‘Get that hose in the doorway – we have to get those people out of there as soon as possible’. That really brought home to me how serious it can be.” Elaine has been surprised by the wide variation in the jobs she has attended and acknowledges that her firefighting role has changed her as a person. “It teaches you a calm and methodical way of dealing with things and I find that I can bring those skills into my workplace,” she said. “I have found it really rewarding and I see it as a way of putting something back into the community. I would certainly recommend it, although it can be a big commitment.”

Her day job has helped Elaine keep up with the fitness requirements of the service. “My job is very active and I spend time riding the horses at the polo club which helps to keep me fit,” she said. “I’m in a netball team and I also went to a boot camp – I much prefer to be fit. “I get great support from my family – they always ask what has been happening after I have been out on a call.”


Keith Robinson

After 35 years as an on-call firefighter at Whitchurch Fire Station, school caretaker Keith Robinson has seen huge changes in the service.

“When I first joined up, we had rubber boots and plastic leggings and a duffel coat was part of the uniform,” he said. “And the equipment has come on a long way during that time, too – we had to raise a lot of money to get our own set of hydraulic equipment during my early days in the service.”

Keith was just 18 when he decided to play his part in the community by signing up as an on-call firefighter.

“I was working at a petrol station opposite the fire station and I got to know a few of the lads,” he said. “Being an on-call firefighter looked a good thing to do and so I signed up. During my time, I’ve been to a lot of building fires and property fires, but I well remember being called to a chemical fire in Telford and to a light aircraft crash. That was quite unusual and fortunately no-one was hurt.”

Keith spent 30 years as a self-employed window-cleaner which provided no problems when it came to answering emergency calls. And now, his current employers at Sir John Talbot’s School in Whitchurch, have been more than accommodating with Keith’s on-call requirements. “I mentioned at my job interview that I was an on-call firefighter and they were very happy for me to carry on,” said the 54-year-old. “They saw that as doing their bit for the community.”

Keith has no hesitation in recommending a career as an on-call firefighter to anyone.

“It is a great way of improving your own skills, such as learning about first aid or HGV driving and it is a really good thing to be able to give something back to the community,” he said. “It has been very useful in my job as a caretaker here at the school. I do a lot of first aid and I use my knowledge of fire safety by testing the fire alarms and making sure all the fire exits are kept clear.

Keith’s line manager at Sir John Talbot’s School, facilities manager Howard Prince, has been happy to give his support, not only allowing Keith to respond to call-outs at any time but also letting the Service use the school for training.

Crews from Whitchurch, Prees and Wem have already used a currently vacant caretaker’s cottage at the school for training purposes and the Whitchurch crew has also used the school’s maths and English corridors for a training exercise.

“The senior leadership team at the school are more than happy for that to continue and see it as part of our role within the community,” said Howard. “We have a very responsible relationship with Keith – there are times when he has to be on site at the school and so he takes himself off duty, similarly when he is out on a call overnight, he simply has to call me if he’s worried about getting back in time to open up the school and we make alternative arrangements.”


Christian Fearon

“It’s a great way of giving back to the community and something that I had always wanted to do but I thought that it was out of my reach,” said Christian Fearon, who is based at the Wellington Fire Station. “But when I researched the role, I found that it suited my abilities very well.” The 32-year-old works as a senior mechanical technician with Ford and says that his employers have been fully behind his role. “There were a number of on-call firefighters here before I took on the role so Ford understand what is required and had all the information,” he said. “My family have been hugely supportive, too – they knew that it was something that I always wanted to do and were very understanding.”

Christian joined up in October and has now been ‘on the run’ for a couple of months since completing his training. He says that the number of call-outs can vary significantly.

“It might be one or two in a week, but sometimes it can be one or two in a day,” he said. “I shall always remember my first call-out which was to a road traffic collision at a petrol station. The person involved was understandably quite distressed and it was a real eye-opener. “But it was good to start putting into practice everything that I had learned during my training. I have had no difficulty in meeting the fitness requirements. I used to train quite a lot anyway and it’s good to have a focus to know what I am working towards rather just simply going down to the gym.”

Christian has no hesitation in recommending the on-call firefighter role. “It is the greatest job that I have ever had and it is everything that I was looking for,” he said. “It’s a great way of giving back to the community and a chance to work with like-minded people who all have the same goal.

“It’s an incredible place to be.”


Carly Woodman

With two children aged two and four, mum Carly Woodman certainly has her hands full but she still finds the time to serve her community as an on-call firefighter.

“I used to drive past the ‘firefighters needed’ sign and thought that, after the birth of my second child, it was now or never if I was going to do it,” said the 37-year-old. “If I had waited for the children to grow up a little, it could have been another five or ten years. I didn’t want to go back to the job that I had been doing before and I thought being an on-call firefighter would be something exciting to do and a little bit out of the ordinary. When your alerter goes off, you never know exactly what it is you are going to be doing.”

Carly joined the crew at Albrighton in February 2017 and fits in 12 hours a week working in a local shop alongside being a mum and a firefighter.

“I have a great support group and I couldn’t do it without them,” she said. “The boys go to nursery a couple of days a week, my husband looks after them for a day and my dad looks after them for half a day. They both help out at the weekends, too. We get called out around 100 times each year but some weeks you might get called three times and then go weeks without a call at all. One of the most memorable calls I can remember is when we rescued a dog from a house – a pan had been left on the stove and the house was smoke-logged. We smashed the door down and discovered the dog hiding, terrified in an upstairs cupboard. I’m a big animal lover so that was very satisfying.”

The variety of different tasks involved in her on-call role has surprised Carly.

“It’s not just putting out fires, there is a lot more involved,” she said. “I get involved with community fire safety and I really enjoy that side of it. That was something I knew nothing about until I joined up – there are lots of avenues to go down." Carly, who is able to keep up to scratch with the service’s fitness requirements with moderate exercise and by eating healthily, says that being an on-call firefighter is something that she would fully recommend.

“It is a job for life,” she said. “It’s a big responsibility but the rewards are great, I get excitement out of responding to incidents knowing that I can help people within my community. It also lets me leave the ‘Mum’ title behind for a while."


Steve Breese

Steve Breese is one of just two Police Community Support Officers who double up as on-call firefighters in Shropshire. The 36-year-old, who has served with West Mercia Police for 11 years, has just completed his third year in the twin roles.

“It’s part of a pilot programme with West Mercia Police and it seemed like a great opportunity to work with both services,” he said. Steve, in fact, has a ‘double dual’ role as, within SFRS, he serves with Albrighton during his working day and is then attached to Wellington in his spare time. “Albrighton is quite a quiet station so I tend to get more shouts at Wellington,” he said. “A lot of the calls at Albrighton are automatic fire alarms but I had to attend a fatal road traffic collision which is something I shall remember.”

Steve said that he has not experienced any problems in combining the two roles nor in meeting the fire service fitness requirements. He would have no hesitation in recommending to anyone to become an on-call firefighter.

“In a village like Albrighton, it is a huge asset to have on-call firefighters as it would take a further 10 minutes for crews to get here from Telford,” he said. “I also find it is socially good, too – our training nights are on a Wednesday and the training is very enjoyable. The level of commitment required as an on-call firefighter surprised me – 84 hours is a big commitment to fit in with your day-to-day life. There does seem to be a different attitude to firefighters compared with the way people treat police officers. Firefighters are seen as approachable and I often get people coming up to ask me questions. But some people who know me as a PCSO don’t recognise me when they see me in my firefighters’ uniform.”