Chief calls for more women to become firefighters in Norfolk

Crew manager Leesa Espley, from Heacham fire station. Picture: Chris Wood

Crew manager Leesa Espley, from Heacham fire station. Picture: Chris Wood - Credit: Archant

Wondering what you'll do with all that time on your hands when the children go back to school? How about becoming a firefighter?

Norfolk's fire chief is appealing for women to join the retained crews who form the backbone of the service across rural areas of the county, as it struggles to recruit staff.

Some 85pc of front-line fire appliances are crewed by retained firefighters. Twenty-eight of Norfolk's 42 fire stations currently have vacancies, with more than 50 of the brigade's 516 retained posts unfilled.

Roy Harold, the county's chief fire officer, said it could not currently meet its target of having 90pc of retained fire engines available to respond to call-outs around the clock.

'We have standards for how many fire engines we have available and at this time we're not meeting that target,' he said. 'We're getting further away from it – as we speak, we're down to 80pc. What that means is when we get calls it takes us longer to get to them. If the engine in Swaffham isn't available that means the next one could be in Dereham, which is going to take longer to get there.'

Mr Harold said the biggest headache was finding day-time cover during the week. He said women with time during the day could help bring more rural retained pumps, which need a crew of four to operate them, back into service.

'It's really a message to people home in the day after they've dropped the kids off at school,' he said. 'Could they crew a fire engine for us?

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'They don't need to be at the fire station, they can get on with their lives as long as they are within five minutes.

'We often have three people available in a village so one more could make the difference.'

Leesa Espley joined up 12 years ago to do just that at her local station in Heacham.

'When I started out I didn't have children, I was a supply teacher,' said Mrs Espley, now 45. 'I left to have my daughter, took maternity leave and for the last eight years I've juggled being a mum and being a firefighter. It's do-able, although the summer holidays can be difficult.' Mrs Espley is now crew manager at the Heacham station, which has currently has five vacancies.

'One of the reasons is people are working out of the area during the day,' she said. 'Day cover's just as important as evening cover.'

Asked what the role can offer recruits, she added: 'It's rewarding, you are giving something back to the community, it's challenging and you're working within a team.'

Retained firefighters must be able to attend the fire station within five minutes of their pager sounding. They start on a £2,202 annual retainer and are paid £3.86 per call-out, plus £10.05 per hour worked. This rises to £2,935 a year and £13.40 an hour with training.

Fire chiefs say employers can benefit from the extra skills staff learn from being part of the crew.

To find out more abour the role and how to apply, click here.