Saving lives is a tough job..

All kitted out: Kay Taylor taking part in a training drill at Chorley Fire Station
All kitted out: Kay Taylor taking part in a training drill at Chorley Fire Station
Share this article
Have your say

Sitting on an old bed at the back of a dark, hot and very cluttered ‘rescue room’, waiting for two men to find me and lead me to safety, I wondered if I could ever have what it takes to be a firefighter.

I’ve grown up with a good idea of what the role involves, as my dad was a firefighter, but the risks and danger associated with the job never really crossed my mind, because ever since I was young, my dad always came home pretty much unscathed.

My mum probably had her worries, as he was called out in the middle of the night to a house fire or a car crash, and I can see now why it takes a certain type of willpower and strength to do the job.

I wasn’t even the one dressed head to toe in heavy protective gear, with breathing apparatus and no idea where to find the casualties on the day I visited the station recently.

I was the one sitting alone in the old dorm room, listening to the shouting and banging as my rescuers made their way through the dark in search of me.

The room was actually where crews used to sleep during the night shifts at the old Chorley fire station on Weldbank Lane. But since the new facility was built at the training centre site at Washington Hall in Euxton, this base is mainly used by the retained crews (or part-time crews) for training purposes.

But it’s also where the guys are called to when there’s an incident, and they have to live no longer than five minutes’ drive away.

There’s still a fire engine there, which covers the whole Chorley area (and beyond) but by April next year the crews will have relocated to the new station at Euxton.

This means that 12 out of the 16 retained crew members will no longer fit the criteria of living within five minutes of the station, and the service is looking for people from Euxton and Astley Village to start signing up to be part of the part-time crew.

Most of the members have other jobs outside of their fire fighting duties - a student, a caretaker, and now, a journalist (just for the day).

They told me that juggling their time isn’t really an issue, and they even get used to the night time call-outs, but socialising can sometimes take a bit of a back step.

So what do you need to become a retained firefighter? Firstly, you need to be able to complete the bleep test at level nine.

The dreaded bleep test. I remember that from school and always hated it. Running between two points backwards and forwards, and getting faster and faster each time.

I was always more of a cross country runner, and I don’t even do that any more, so I was grateful that they didn’t make me do that during my visit!

You also have to pass a number of psychometric tests, such as maths and English, which I think I would do ok at, and there’s an interview process.

On top of that, there are regular Physical Assessment Days (PADs), which involve various tests such as carrying heavy equipment and crawling through confined spaces in the dark.

For retained firefighters, there’s then a two-week initiation course followed by other courses in health and safety and breathing apparatus, but after the initial two weeks, you’re ready to attend incidents.

One guy I spoke to said he was called out just five days after qualifying, and while sometimes the retained crew are used to support the full time (or whole time) crew at incidents, a lot of the time they are the first at the scene.

In Chorley, for example, the whole-time crew may be at another job, and fire engines will be sent from places like Leyland and Bamber Bridge.

But it’s the retained crew who can normally get there the fastest, being just minutes away from the station when they’re on call.

And helping people in their home town, which could include family and friends, is one of the main draws and benefits of working as part of a retained crew, they tell me.

There’s also a strong sense of camaraderie with a retained crew, because they all live close to one another, and some of the men I spoke to have formed close friendships outside of work as well.

So that’s where the ‘rescuing a casualty trapped in a burning building’ exercise came into it.

The room I was hiding in has been transformed into a training space with large cupboards, tables, chairs, wires, curtains and beds scattered around to create a sort of rat-run.

Two firefighters were tasked with finding me in the dark, and they used a large ventilation fan first to clear the (imaginary) smoke.

It was really loud, so communication between the guys and those outside (who were monitoring the breathing apparatus on a machine and getting ready to treat any casualties with the first aid kit), was key.

I’m told that the ventilation unit is used quite frequently these days, to push smoke out through broken windows, for example.

They found their way around by sticking together and always making sure their hands were touching the wall to the left.

If there was an break in the wall, they simply had to follow it round to ensure that they didn’t get disorientated themselves.

It was really hot and dark, and part of me wished I was the one searching round instead of waiting in silence, next to a dummy, which also had to be rescued.

I can see where the sense of reward and achievement comes from with a job like this. Emerging from the darkness back into the daylight following a rescue was a good feeling.

I can’t even begin to imagine what horrors firefighters must see at road incidents and fires, and it takes a certain type of person to do the job.

But for anyone interested in becoming a retained crew member, Chorley’s new fire station is recruiting now, so get in touch with them and attend a drill like I did, to see what it’s all about.