Breaking down stereotypes to recruit new firefighters

JPCT 200213 Storrington's retained firefighters. Mandy Anderson.Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 200213 Storrington's retained firefighters. Mandy Anderson.Photo by Derek Martin

Retained firefighters in a South Downs village want to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about the emergency service and encourage residents to join.

The team at Storrington Fire Station told the County Times that people should not be afraid of stepping up and taking part.

Retain liaison officer Martin McKilligin has been in the service for more than 30 years. He said: “Some people think it’s down to the big strong individual, it’s not.

“It’s not about kicking doors down, there’s something here for everybody, including women.”

Trying to thwart the Hollywood ideal of firefighters, Mr McKilligin explains that the role requires dexterity and technique.

He said: “It’s about giving something to the public.

“We hold school events and try to stay in the public eye.”

Mr McKilligin and the 17 other firefighters that work at the station are spreading the word and urging for more recruits to sign up in Storrington, Henfield and Petworth.

“The retained firefighter is someone who lives or works within four minutes of the fire station,” he explained.

“They carry out the same tasks as a full time firefighter, but we employ on a retained mandatory basis to respond during the working day or night.”

Performing the same training as a full time firefighter, the retained crew is paid an hourly rate as and when they are needed.

In order to fit the criteria, an applicant must take a series of written and practical tests over 11 weeks. Next the recruit is able to work at the fire station, whilst undergoing two years of further training.

One of the female members of the service is mother Mandy Anderson.

Starting the job in 2002, Mrs Anderson needed something to do while her children were at school.

“This fitted in well. It was local and I gave cover during school hours,” said the 49-year-old.

Varying from day to day, the station can be called out a few times a day or just once a week.

“We can get a call out to cats up trees, chimney fires and road traffic collisions.”

Mrs Anderson said there is no difference between a man or woman on the crew, they are all trained to do the same job.

With only two female retained firefighters at Storrington Fire Station, the recruit would like to see more women come forward.

“We are quite rare still unfortunately,” she said.

One common element that has been a deterrent for potential firefighters is the risk of danger, but this has not been Mrs Anderson’s experience.

“I haven’t found it to be dangerous, no not at all.

“I think there’s lots of policies and procedures in place to make sure we’re all kept safe.”

A great confidence booster, the recruit admitted that it is wonderful to feel part of the community and helping out where she can.

Joining in 1986, Mick Suter, who also works as a butcher in Storrington village centre, joined because he had some free time.

He said: “I’ve stuck with it for so long for the camaraderie and doing the job together - there are mostly good times, but there can be some sorrow.”

Mr Suter admitted that working full time as a butcher can be inconvenient at times, but he has been able to work around it.

“I can see why some people are put off because there are not many companies that would let employees go because they need them there.

“But if you can work it out, you can take away some great satisfaction from helping others.

“It’s nice when you get praise back for what you do, even if it’s just for a small chimney fire.”

With crew members hailing from all walks of life including handymen, property developers and gardeners, Storrington Fire Station is a fine example of how the modern firefighter works.

If you’re interested in joining the team, learning valuable skills, helping the community and saving lives, call 01243 642 134 to enquire about vacancies.