Florence Coetzer became an on-call firefighter
A mother from Wye has spoken about her experience of becoming an on-call firefighter in the hope of encouraging others to join the service.
35-year-old Florence Coetzer’s ambition to become a firefighter was ignited when she was 10 years old and firefighters were called to a fire at her family home to deal with a chimney fire.
She said: “Several months after Christmas, my dad was trying to burn our very old & dry Christmas tree on our open fire and accidently set the chimney alight. Fortunately, it wasn’t too serious, but I remember feeling really inspired by how brilliantly and efficiently the crew dealt with it, and this stayed in my mind for many years. After that, growing up in Wye with a fire station in the village, I always wanted to be a firefighter.
Florence works as a personal assistant for a property company in London and finally fulfilled her dream, completing her initial training as an on-call firefighter in February this year (2018), after settling back in the village with her husband and young child.
On-call firefighters are required to live or work within five minutes travelling time from a local on-call fire station and are paid to be available for an agreed number of hours. During that time, they are able to carry on their normal life, but are paid to be available when an incident comes in. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a good level of all-round fitness.
Florence is contracted to KFRS for 50 hours each week when she makes herself available to respond to call outs from Wye fire station. She fits this around her full-time work commute and caring for her 2 and a-half-year-old daughter, with the support of her husband and parents. She also attends a weekly drill night and continues a 2-year firefighter training course to bring her to full competency.
Describing her time so far as a new recruit, Florence said: “I was naturally a bit daunted at first; would it work with my existing commitments. Would it work with my commute? Would I hear my pager going off? Would I remember my training? But my fire station mentor at Wye, Mike, who also commutes for his primary role, reassured me at every step.”
Her first fire call was to a large warehouse fire as the third or fourth fire engine on the scene, which provided lots of hands-on experience, supporting the crews that were entering the building wearing breathing apparatus.
“My day job has hardly been impacted by call outs I have attended, and my main employer has been very supportive and understanding. They appreciate the additional skills I can bring into the work place, such as my enhanced first aid training, and even gave me a ‘Going Above & Beyond’ award for the work I am doing in my local community with the fire service, whilst balancing my day job and being a working-mum, which made me really proud.
So apart from the odd occasion where I have been kept up in the night with my daughter and also had a fire call-out, things are working out really well in terms of balancing my roles.”
Florence said: “The physical challenge really appeals to me as you are tested at every stage, and I really enjoy setting myself personal fitness goals. The training is hard work, but the e-learning before the course helped me to prepare. Starting out, you get a strong sense of responsibility - the stakes are high, but the trainers really encourage you to have faith in what you are doing, and build on the new skills you have.
“I was the only woman on my training course, but everyone I trained with was brilliant, and I was treated exactly the same as the men, which I found really encouraging. It is really exciting to work in a profession that so openly encourages equal opportunities.”
“Being a firefighter who happens to be female can prove helpful on occasions, providing a different dynamic to certain incidents. One time, we attended a call out to an elderly gentleman who was very unwell. He was surprised to see a female in the crew, and I was able to make a connection with him, talking to him and reassuring him, while he was being tended to by other members of the crew.”
“My message to anyone else considering whether it might be for them would be: If I can do it, anyone can It’s more to do with having a ‘can do’ attitude and knowing everything you do is as part of a team, with everyone contributing to the best possible outcome, whatever the incident is that you are dealing with.
“It is such a privilege to work with the crew at Wye, who have so much experience. I would urge people who enjoy a good challenge to apply and join our crew, you really won’t regret it.”
To find out more about becoming an on-call firefighter and for a full list of recruiting stations visit: http://www.kent.fire-uk.org/jobs/current-vacancies/on-call-firefighter/.
Florence with with her fellow on call firefighters from Wye fire station