Firefighter Val: it’s more than a job

Although possibly one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs available, retained firefighting is not a profession that should be entered into lightly.

Although possibly one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs available, retained firefighting is not a profession that should be entered into lightly.

Despite her obvious enthusiasm for the work, 37-year-old Val Holland, who is based at Seaton fire station but also covers call-outs for Woodbury, warns that it is not a job for everyone.

She said: "Your life really does revolve around the job. It requires 100 per cent devotion, which can be difficult for people with children who want to spend the weekend as a family. You have to be totally serious about it.

"The training process is long and drawn out. There is a two-year probation once you are in, but often the 'getting in' is the issue. There is a fitness test, an interview, and then training. It really is well worth it though

"We all have every day jobs, but when we get the call we have to drop everything and go. My boss is really good, and it's only very occasionally that I can't go."

Val, who is also a full time post woman, has been in the profession for eight years.

Most Read

She views herself and her colleagues as a close knit family and enjoys every aspect of the job.

One of only two female fire fighters at the Seaton station, she does not feel disadvantaged by being a minority.

She admits that she will never be as strong as a man, but says this is not a problem. After all, her job is not just about fighting fires,

"The majority of our call-outs are medical, probably about 60 to 70 per cent - heart attacks, asthma attacks, anything that can be classed as a category A call-out", she said.

"From the time we get the call we must be on and leaving the station, suited and booted, within seven minutes. At this station though, we generally average between three and five minutes.

In the spirit of thorough research I tried on the 'suits and boots' myself, and was surprised to find them much lighter than expected. After watching Val's demonstration I was able to don the entire firefighting outfit in one minute and 15 seconds - although this was put to shame by Val's 40 seconds.

It is not just a question of attire, however, there are many skills required to attend to the various call outs - such as basic medical training, ability to work under pressure and a quick assessment of the situation.

She said: "When we arrive at the scene we monitor the person and attempt to stabilise them until the ambulance arrives. If it's a cardiac arrest, however, it's all hands on deck!"

She added: "About ten years ago people were entirely unaware of the fire service acting as medical responders. It's better now, especially amongst the locals, but we do still get the occasional holiday maker who asks 'what are you doing here we called for an ambulance'."

In her experience, the public often hold expectations of the fire service that are not realistic:

"People tend to think we are gods and can do the impossible, but unfortunately we can't. Our own safety is paramount, and although the public would often see us work faster, we have to follow guidelines for health and safety".

However, there are times when battling the blaze does not end well.

"When fire takes the lives of people and their pets it is very emotional, and often hard to deal with. This is something we have to learn to cope with, and we all help each other by talking about what happened. There is also a 'diffusing officer', trained in managing grief who is available to talk to anyone who may have been involved in a traumatic call-out".

Whilst her job is challenging and demanding, Val feels that it is enjoyable and rewarding enough to warrant such focus and devotion.

Attempting to 'myth bust' I asked her whether firefighters did indeed slide down a pole when answering a call.

She said: "No, as we don't have a pole at this station - but I really wish we did!