Retained firefighters are a vital part of today’s fire and rescue service. Nationwide, approximately 18,000 retained firefighters provide efficient, cost effective and reliable fire and rescue cover to around 60% of the UK.
Most retained firefighters are based in rural areas and will crew one or two appliances at a solely retained fire station, however some are based in urban areas on stations alongside wholetime crews. Some retained firefighters also crew special appliances such as Hydraulic Platforms, Water Carriers, Off Road Vehicles etc.
Retained crews will be called upon to attend the full range of incidents including fires, floods, road traffic collisions, chemical spills and more, and work alongside their wholetime colleagues at many incidents. Unfortunately, the majority of the general public are not aware that retained firefighters exist, let alone that their local fire station is a retained station.
What is a Retained Firefighter?
Apart from a few hours a week for training sessions and to carry out other pre-arranged duties, retained firefighters only attend the fire station when they have received an emergency callout. For much of the time, a retained fire station is unmanned. Each retained firefighter carries a pocket alerter, which is activated when they are needed and they have a maximum of 5 minutes to report to the fire station and mobilise the necessary appliance(s). Retained firefighters will have other occupations, but when the call comes they drop whatever they are doing and become part of a team. Depending on the type of cover given, a retained firefighter may respond from home and/or work, day and / or night.
Call rates vary from station to station with some retained stations responding to over 800 calls a year and others responding to less than 50. On average you can expect to be called out 2 or 3 times a week for perhaps a couple of hours. And, because the ideal is to have more firefighters available than are needed to crew each appliance, you won’t have to attend every call. In addition when you really can’t spare the time, you can sign off duty, providing there are enough staff available to crew the appliance for that period.
Most brigades offer several types of retained contract with different levels of commitment based around the hours of cover you can offer. A full rate contract is usually based on offering 120 hours of cover per week and a reduced rate contract attracting at least 75% of the retaining fee is payable for any other agreed level of cover.
Community Fire Safety
The role of the fire and rescue service has changed over recent years, with firefighters working to reduce the number of fires, fire related deaths and injuries through a range of Community Fire Safety initiatives. Many retained firefighters play an important role within their communities, by helping to promote fire safety messages, giving fire safety advice to schools and other organisations as well as carrying out free Safe and Well visits and also ensuring that local risk information is kept up to date.
The Retained Application Process
If you are thinking about joining as a retained firefighter then it is always best to speak to the Officer in Charge at your local retained station, as precise details of the application process / cover required can vary from one fire and rescue service to another. The following information will give you a basic idea of the requirements:-
The application process for becoming a Retained Firefighter will be almost identical to the process for becoming a wholetime firefighter in the same fire and rescue service. There will usually be less competition for places, with many retained stations struggling to recruit enough firefighters to crew the appliances, especially during the hours of 9am to 6pm Monday to Saturday.
The basic process is likely to include an application form, written tests to ensure a basic level of literacy and numeracy, physical tests to ensure a decent level of physical fitness and rule out certain conditions like claustrophobia, an interview and a medical. More details can be found on our recruitment pages.
Retained duty system firefighters are trained to carry out all the duties of a firefighter. You will need to carry out initial training before you can safely respond to emergency calls. Again this varies depending on the fire and rescue service but will involve some on station training and attendance at a fire and rescue training centre.
Some fire and rescue services split the initial training into several modules completed over the first year of service so that you cover pumps and ladders first and return to training centre to cover Breathing Apparatus at a later date. Others do all this as part of a longer initial course. In all cases you will not be able to respond to incidents until you have passed an assessment confirming that you are safe to ride.
Ongoing training will require attendance at a 2 or 3 hour weekly drill night on station plus periodic refresher courses in areas such as breathing apparatus and trauma care. You may also have the opportunity to undertake optional training courses in order to gain extra skills.
Retained firefighters receive payment for the work they undertake. Exactly how your payment is structured varies in each fire and rescue service. The most common method is for a retaining fee to be paid based on the hours per week you are contracted to be on call, plus payments for responding to calls, maintaining the equipment, carrying out community fire safety work etc. These extra payments are based on the hourly rate for a firefighter.
The current rates for all these payments can be found on the site of our Fire Brigades Union.
Some brigades have switched to a system where some or all of these payments have been rolled up into a salary which is paid regardless of the number of calls and is based purely upon the hours that you are contracted to cover. Again the details vary from service to service.
Transferring to a Wholetime Position
In theory at least, a firefighter is a firefighter and the retained duty system is just another duty system worked by firefighters in the UK. This should mean that transferring from the retained service to a wholetime position should be simple. Some fire and rescue services now have clear procedures in place which will allow a competent retained duty system firefighter to transfer across to a wholetime position.
Others currently still require serving retained firefighters wanting to transfer to wholetime to go through the complete application and initial training phase alongside wholetime recruits with no fire service experience.
If you require any further information on the retained duty system and want to become a firefighter working on the system, please feel free to join our forum where we have many RDS firefighters willing to provide you with the information you require, all based on their own experiences.