Vicar exchanges Pulpit to become Firefighter Sam for the day

There has always been something exciting about a Fire engine and blue lights with a noisy siren. Uniforms and high levels of adrenaline accompany those whose vocation is to be on standby for the 999 call that there is a fire and that help is urgently required. Sadly, Images of the Grenfell Tower bring to the forefront the painful reality that fire can cause death and often it’s at home, in the work place, on more commonly on the busy roads which we drive on.

Red Watch came on shift at 8am. A few years a go there would have been 22 firemen on duty, now it’s down to 5 with one appliance and another engine with a combined aerial Rescue ie long extending ladder! The Station at King Cross Halifax is large and includes the District Offices, with Commanding Officers and the Prevention Department. Inside the station are beds to sleep, a kitchen for preparing food, rooms in which to study and relax, and outside additional rooms, including the gym, rooms with firefighting equipment, and finally the sheds in which the vehicles are kept at the ready. Having been shown around, the next important task was to organise my kit, just in case the call out came quickly. Boots with trousers attached, a luminous jacket, and a helmet.

The next hour was spent in the gym working out as Fire Officers try to stay fit and healthy at all times. Often they need to carry heavy equipment as they try to put out fires and rescue members of the public or occasionally animals. Red Watch is a close nit group of men who work together when on duty and encourage one another through good times and bad. By working out together the camaraderie is strengthened.

Much of the time when waiting for a 999 call is spent in training, ensuring that all the kit is working properly and that firefighters know how to safely use it. Not only how to use fire hoses appropriately, but electrical cutting equipment at a road traffic collision, or the use of ropes to get down a tunnel of some kind, or how to wear a harness to go 100 feet (30 metres) on a ladder to a highrise block of flats, or below a bridge where someone has fallen. It’s crucial that when the call arrives, all the equipment is in good working order and everyone knows how to use it safely.

Today Fire Officers from nearby Illingworth and Rastrick Stations were carrying out a joint exercise under close inspection by local Commanders. Red Watch had planted a dummy at the bottom of the tall tower – imitating someone who had fallen a long way down a shaft and required rescuing. Those on the exercise had to appoint their own Officer in Charge, and carry out the drill and routine required for the incident. While this was going on, Red Watch went off to carry out their own exercise with the appliance that carried the aerial rescue. One of the Fire Officers was learning how to control the ladder, and this provided me with a chance to take a harness and take the trip 100 foot high as the exercise took place. The views of Halifax were stunning over the town and out to the hills and moors around, with a cold wind and rain! Whilst the experience was exhilarating, I was glad that I didn’t have to man handle a body or navigate a hose or any other equipment, as that would have been seriously challenging!

After a couple of hours understanding how to prepare the appliance before extending the ladder, it was time to warm up and have some lunch. The local Fish and Chip shop did us proud with our cans of Dandelion and Burdock! After lunch there was a list of home visits to make, from people who had requested a visit to check on smoke detectors and other fire advice. Joined up work with other agencies now means Fire Officers advise on general security of the property and act as eyes and ears for any safeguarding issues they see, be it vulnerable children or adults. Often when visiting a street, Fire Officers knock all the doors to let the wider community know of their presence and to offer help and advice.                 

Towards the end of the shift it was time to return to the Station and a chance for Officers to complete administrative tasks. All the exercises completed that day have to be filed on line as part of their ongoing professional development, providing evidence of their commitment to training and being ready for what any emergency might require of them.

At 7pm Red Watch had fulfilled their duty, and on this occasion there had been no emergency call out – disappointing for me, but good news for the people of Halifax! I’m hugely grateful to the men of Red Watch for allowing me to gate crash their day, and for making me feel so welcome and for sharing with me an insight into their commitment and professionalism as Fire fighters in the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.