London Fire Brigade


What it takes to be a firefighter – the view from the front line

Ever wondered what it takes to be a firefighter? The best way to find out is to hear from the people who actually do the job. Here our staff talk about why they joined the Brigade, what the day-day business of being a firefighter really involves and what qualities they believe it takes to become one.

Firefighter Storme Alexander | Firefighter Karen Bell | Firefighter Matt Harold  


Firefighter Storme Alexander

Storme Alexander joined the Brigade in 2007 and is based at East Ham Fire Station. Here she talks about why she joined the Brigade and what it takes to be a firefighter.  

Firefighter Storme Alexander“The Brigade was a job that had everything I was looking for”
I joined the army straight from school and left in 2000.  I really missed it as I enjoyed the structured work place, working as a team and the variety of the job. I was looking for something that ticked all those boxes and the Brigade did that for me so I applied and in 2008 I completed my firefighter training.  

“Teamwork is the best thing about my job”
To be a firefighter you need to be able to adapt to different situations, be physically fit, and able to work within a team made up of different personalities. It’s the teamwork that’s the best thing about my job, working together to help people in what can often be, for them, the hardest and most distressing time of their lives.  

“You never know what each day will bring”
Although it’s an important part of what we do, the job isn’t all about fighting fires. We work a lot to try and prevent fires from happening in the first place – going out into the community to visit people in their homes to fit smoke alarms and talk about fire safety. The best thing though is that you never know what each day will bring.  

“Promotion isn’t the only way to develop your career”
I’m currently looking to go for promotion. There are good opportunities to develop a career in the Brigade and the support is there for anyone who wants to. At the same time, it’s also a job which doesn’t look down on you if you want to remain a firefighter.  Promotion isn’t the only route. You can develop your skills by doing any number of courses to ride different appliances and carry out specialist roles.  

“The idea that it’s a men only profession is really outdated”
My advice to anyone thinking about a career with the London Fire Brigade is that it’s the best job in the world, but you have to be prepared to work hard physically and mentally. Also the idea of the fire brigade as being a ‘men only’ profession is really outdated. It’s vital that we reflect the communities we work in.  I’ve been on many call outs where the situation has been resolved because the person involved has listened to me or trusted me because I am a woman.  

Firefighter Karen Bell

Karen Bell is based at Deptford fire station and has been a firefighter since 2010.  

Firefighter Karen Bell“Just before joining I worked in the Brigade’s Control Room”
I was a ski rep for a number of years and I also worked as a disability employment adviser for the Department of Work and Pensions. Just prior to becoming a firefighter I worked in the Brigade’s Control Room.

“The Brigade gave me the opportunity to do something positive in the community.”
Physical work had never phased me and it was clear to me that the fire brigade offered me the opportunity of a worthwhile career and to do something positive within the community

“No two days are ever the same”
I can truly say that I enjoy every aspect of my job, whether it be putting up a smoke alarm for an elderly resident, tackling a fire or showing a group of children around the fire engine.  No two days are ever the same.  I enjoy the ‘family’ life of the fire station and love being a part of the watch. Shift work doesn’t suit everyone but it suits me perfectly. Working two days followed by two nights allows me to spend concentrated quality time with my family.

“It’s not all about fighting fires”
Working for London Fire Brigade is not just about fighting fires. Thanks to the extensive fire safety work that the Brigade does, the number of fires we attend has actually reduced considerably over the years. The bulk of my time is spent doing fire safety work out in the local community. We also attend other emergencies such as road traffic accidents. Working as a firefighter doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend all your time working at a fire station either. There are many opportunities - I work with the Positive Action Team to encourage people from different backgrounds to consider a career as a firefighter.

“If you enjoy working with the community this could be the job for you.”
 If you enjoy working with the community,as part of a close knit team for a disciplined organisation this could be the job for you.  The training is 17 weeks long and involves a great deal of study and physical exercise so you need to be disciplined enough to study on your own and maintain a high standard of physical fitness. 

“It’s vital our workforce represents the communities we serve.”
London is the most diverse city in the world and host to millions of international visitors each year.  Therefore it’s vital that our workforce represents the different communities we serve. Having different people from a range of backgrounds increases our ability to connect with the public in what, for them, can be really stressful circumstances.

Firefighter Matt Harold

Matt Harold has been a firefighter for the last four years and is based at Wimbledon fire station.

Firefighter Matt HaroldWhat were you doing before you joined the Brigade?
Since leaving school at 16 I’ve mainly worked in an office environment. My last job was Monday to Friday 9pm–5pm and most days would follow the same pattern.

What made you apply for a job with the London Fire Brigade?
I had become bored always knowing what I would be doing day in day out and there were no real prospects for career progression. I wanted a complete change and to do something that would give me the opportunity to help all sorts of different people and make a real contribution to the community I worked in.

What’s the best thing about your current job?
No two days are ever the same. You never know what to expect when you wake up in the morning and every day at the end of the shift it’s great to know that you’ve made a real difference to people’s lives.

Is your job all about fighting fires?
No, far from it. Responding to fires will always be a vital part of the job, but being a firefighter today is just as much about stopping them from happening in the first place. We regularly visit schools, shopping centres, nursing homes and other places to talk about fire safety. We also visit people in their homes where we check their smoke alarms to see if they are working and install new ones if they are needed.

As well as fires, we attend a huge variety of operational incidents, everything from traffic accidents and flooding to chemical incidents and water rescues. Training is also a huge part of the job. We need to be prepared to cope with any situation we may face so we constantly need to prepare and polish our skills.

Do you think it’s a job where you can make a real difference to the community?
Definitely. As each station has its own ground (the area it covers) you really get the opportunity to build relationships with people. By visiting schools and interacting with children from a young age, it allows us to plant the seed that fire is dangerous. This will hopefully have the knock on effect of reducing the number of fires in the future

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career with the London Fire Brigade?
It’s a fun, busy, community focused, action packed career where no two days are the same. Give the application everything you’ve got as there’s a lot of competition out there. Not all firefighters get in at the first attempt. If you don’t succeed give it another go the next time the Brigade recruits and use the experience you gained as an advantage. Research the role of a firefighter, be passionate about your desire to join and make sure you work at improving your fitness.

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