Days of parades and playing volleyball

Between calls, firefighters fit in practice and paperwork. Glenda Coope r reports on Blue Watch
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The Independent Online
Paul Russell, a firefighter for 24 years, is one of the 18 members of Blue Watch at Norwich City fire station. "Our routine is the work we expect to do each day," he said. "We only interrupt that to go on firecalls. Most of the time we're doing run of the mill things." 08.30: "What with traffic and parking most people get into work at this time for the initial parade," Mr Russell said. "Not many people come in in their gear - that died out several years ago."

08.59: Parade. "It's like London's Burning. You get on parade at exactly one minute to nine so the outgoing shift can finish at nine. There's a check that all the people are there that should be. You're told which machine you'll be riding that day and what job you'll do - driving or operating the BA [the breathing apparatus]."

09.05: The firefighters are dismissed from parade to take their fire gear to the engine and check it is working properly. They also go through any paperwork.

10.00: Physical training. "We play volleyball. If football's the English game, volleyball's the fire service's national game."

11.00: Tea break.

11.15: The firefighters carry out team drills under the watch officer's eye, preparing for real-life fire and rescue situations. "We like to get out of the station as much as possible - well if we're practising rescuing someone from a tree we have to getout and find a tree. Afterwards we get a briefing from the officer when he points out any faults."

13.00: Lunch. "The amount of calls we get in varies - sometimes it's none, sometimes six to eight. One call can take all day, or five can take less than two hours. If we get a call we just have to go out whether it's lunchtime or not."

14.00: Individual training. "The more experienced hands teach the new boys and everyone does something different. Something like the hydraulic platforms - the `fireman's snorkel' - can take 18 hours of training to grasp."

16.30: Tea break 16.45: Preparing the station for the next shift. "We'll clean the mess room and get it ready for the nightwatch. If we've got time we'll wash the engines as well as clean our personal fire gear and make sure it's kept up to scratch."

18.00: End of the shift. The nightshift come on until the next morning. Until midnight they are expected to drill, exercise and go on parade. Until 7am, they are on "stand-down" and can go to sleep or do what they want except they are not allowed to leave the station.

A qualified firefighter would earn £16,497 (it takes five years to qualify). A leading firefighter (15 years service plus passing exams) earns £18,390.