Feature: A day in the life of a fire fighter

Our reporter Elizabeth Fry
Our reporter Elizabeth Fry

Training to be a firefighter - either full-time or retained - involves a number of courses including cutting people out of cars after road-traffic collisions, driving under sirens and blue lights, and fighting house fires in breathing apparatus. Advertiser reporter Elizabeth Fry became the first Nottinghamshire journalist to join the latest recruits for a breathing apparatus training day.

On a windy airfield in Lincolnshire on a bitterly cold December day, a mixture of fresh-faced trainees and retained firefighters are strapping themselves into breathing apparatus and preparing to enter a metal box containing a real fire which will reach a ceiling temperature of 600oC.

And I will be joining them.

As part of becoming a firefighter with Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue, trainees spend several days at their training base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

The base includes a crashed school bus to practise road traffic collisions, a collapsed crane and car park to simulate an earthquake, and a mock school complete with little coats on pegs and a sound system which plays children screaming and crying to emulate a disaster zone charged with emotion.

Most importantly for us the site also contains ‘attack boxes’ - modified shipping containers - where trainees learn how a typical kitchen fire develops and the best techniques to use when tackling it.

Once we are in fire kit with an air cylinder containing about 30-minutes worth of air strapped to our backs we clamber into the empty attack box and get comfortable on the metal floor. At the other end of the box an instructor sets fire to some slabs of plywood which are consumed alarmingly quickly and we watch it develop with fascination, the flames licking the ceiling above our heads.

A blanket of smoke called the neutral plane descends gently from the ceiling and we fight to stay below it so we can still see the flames.

The smoke reaches the floor and within seconds I can no longer see my hand in front of my face and we are all pulled out of the box.

The temperature inside the attack box rockets to 250oC at waist height and the trainees enter in pairs with a hose and attempt to tackle the fire while we watch their progress through a thermal imaging camera.

As the blaze begins to run out of fuel I am invited to have a go myself.

Shuffling into the box on my knees, Eastwood Station Watch Manager Tim Marston talks me through the technique: a short burst at the ceiling to push the heat back before a longer spray painting the fire with water.

After a few minutes the fire is out and we make a speedy escape.

When I emerge from the attack box and pull my mask off I am hot and I stink of barbecue but I am absolutely exhilarated and wish I could do it all again.