The role of a firefighter Control Operator
The role of a Firefighter Control Operator can be an extremely rewarding career where no two days are the same.
As a Control Operator you will provide a vital service to your community by dealing with 999 calls ranging from house fires to serious road traffic collisions to cliff rescues. Staffed 24 hours a day and a crucial part of the Avon Fire & Rescue Service family, Firefighter Control help mobilise crews, identify exact locations, provide fire safety advice to people who might be trapped inside a burning building and continue to reassure callers until the moment firefighters arrive on the scene. You will also be trained in dealing with other incidents, including chemical, radiological, biological and nuclear incidents.
We realise that while the role can be rewarding, it can also be demanding and may not be suitable for some people. We have produced a checklist that you can use to understand if this is the role for you.
The Control room is staffed 24 hours, 365 days a year to ensure that we provide protection to our local community.
Operators work in a Watch of up to eight people with 5 on duty at a time, and follow a shift pattern that includes night-time hours and can include weekends.
A shift runs over 8 days and consists of:
- two days (8am-5pm),
- followed by two nights (5pm-8am),
- and then four days off.
As the shift takes place over 8 days, the start of each shift moves forward by one day every week, for example an operator who started their shift on a Monday this week will start their shift on a Tuesday next week. This will mean that you will have to work weekends, bank holidays and your birthday if they fall within your rostered days.
A day in the life of a Firefighter Control Operator.
Our day shift officially starts at 0800hrs, however we arrive for 0730hrs to ensure the off going Watch (a team of five) can brief us on what’s happened over the last 15 hours, this usually ensures they are released before 0800hrs.
We spend the next hour receiving information from each station regarding how many firefighters are on duty and what specialist kit is available. We make sure everyone is where they need to be. We check the calendar to ensure we have enough fire appliances available to us and enough to allow some to carry out training uninterrupted. We’re also checking our calendar to confirm our training plan and tasks for the shift and we arrange our breaks, we can’t leave the building so bring our own lunch with us, there’s a minimum of five of us on duty and we need three in the room at all times.
We have dedicated roles within the room, we take it in turns to either answer the 999 calls or work on the radio console which is our link with the firefighters out on incidents or carrying out community work. We switch roles each shift so have to know how to carry out all the jobs, but this stops the shifts ever getting monotonous.
Once we’ve gone through any changes in policy or procedure and carried out some training and admin tasks we begin our breaks, we have the ability to use the small gym, however we’re always recallable back into the Control Room so we’re sometimes interrupted and running back in to help our team if calls come in from the public or crews need help managing an incident. The 9 hours fly by and soon it’s 1630hrs and the night Watch are in ready to get a hand over from us.
The night shift is a little different, it starts with the same admin tasks as the day shift followed by some training, but then we eat our supper. We usually eat together, taking it in turns making the meals in our well equipped kitchen, most of us had never cooked for more than ourselves when we joined but soon learnt how to cater for five. If the Cook is confident it gives space for one other person to be out in the Control room, maybe using the gym or carrying out some self-development with less distraction. However if the Cook needs help then the rest of us stay in the room and remain available for emergency calls.
At 2200hrs we focus on our personal training and development, reading up on the latest information from HQ or going over documents explaining how to manage certain incidents that we have less regularly, there’s plenty to keep on top of and it’s part of our role to ensure we know the latest information.
We enter a period known as ‘stand down’ from 0000hrs until 0630hrs. During ‘standdown’ most of us use the time to have a chat and catch up or we watch something we’ve downloaded on our phones or read a book, but basically we do something relaxing whilst remaining alert and ready for action should the phone ring. That’s if it’s a ‘good’ night, if we’ve picked up a big incident or have numerous smaller incidents rolling through the night then we are there helping the crews by keeping an accurate record of the incident, ensuring they have all the equipment they need and that we have enough fire appliances to cope with whatever happens next. We usually gather for a cup of tea at 0630hrs and begin making sure everything’s tidy and ready for the day watch, arriving at 0730hrs.
There really isn’t ever a dull moment.