A day in the life of Norfolk Fire and Rescue’s firefighters
During a period of unrelenting heat across the county our fire service has been working round the clock to battle an increase in calls-outs. Reporter Rebecca Murphy spent time with Norfolk Fire and Rescue to find out how its staff have coped with the demand.
It’s hitting over 30C in the middle of the Norfolk countryside and the Red Watch crew from Carrow Fire Station are helping to put out hay stacks which have been set alight after a bailer caught fire.
The sun is beating down on the field near Wroxham as the five firefighters, led by crew manager Lee Spiers, pull the stacks apart before dousing them with water.
Standing near to the flames is almost unbearable. But add to that sweltering weather conditions and a protective uniform designed to keep the heat from getting in, and in doing so not letting any escape, you really get a sense of what our firefighters are dealing with.
It’s turns out to be a relatively simple fire to contain, the crew are told not to exert themselves too much with a busy shift ahead, but after an hour the heat makes even the simple jobs harder, and the firefighters are drenched in sweat and are drinking copious bottles of water.
“It is physically demanding and it is very labour intensive,” said crew manager Spiers about field fires. “From a brigade point of view it is very resource hungry and you are there for a few hours.”
During their Friday 9am to 6pm shift there are calls to alarms sounding at a block of flats in the city, which turn out to be an alarm fault, and a fire in the graveyard of St Giles Church, which only requires buckets of water.
In between calls out the men fit in a quick training session and as some of them sit down to eat and drink and have a quick rest, the alarm sounds around the station the men are straight up, into their boots and trousers and into the fire engine in no time.
Mr Spiers said: “I can remember the feeling I had when I first joined and wanted that first fire call. But the more you do it the more you get used to it.
“We are very conscious of hazards and you have to keep calm in situations. You just focus on the job.”
On the way back from one job a call comes in to attend what is believed to be a chemical incident. It could be a potentially dangerous situation. The two crew members assigned to wear the breathing apparatus (BA) for that put on their tunics, BA packs and headgear as the engine’s sirens wail.
There are comments about how serious the situation could be and eagerness for the radio to come to life to send through more information. Through it all the crew are calm and professional.
Within a few minutes they are stood down as the incident is revealed not to be chemical related and there is a sense of relief.
Another wildfire on Mousehold Heath occupies the crew into the last hour of their shift but they know one more call-out could be on the horizon which could once again see them finish late in what has been an unrelenting time for the service.
They were right, Carrow’s rescue boat is required at Reedham, where two people need rescuing from their boat which has got stranded on the Broads.
Navigating between the queues of traffic on the A47 and around the tight country bends, you realise the skill and concentration needed to drive the engine - even after a non-stop eight hour shift.
The engine and the rescue boat arrive to find a crowd has gathered along the shore of both sides of the River Yare.
There are a lot of risks associated with the job, boats are passing up and down the Broad and past the stranded boat, and there is the safety of those they are rescuing to think about.
There is also the added pressure of people watching and recording the rescue, but the two crew members who conduct rescue remain calm and the husband and wife are brought safely to shore one at a time.
Leigh Madeley, who has been a firefighter for three-and-a-half years, said he enjoys jobs which involve water.
He said: “The most dynamic jobs you go to are when someone is in the water. There are associated risks with these incidents. If you go to a good job it can be really rewarding.”
After the rescue is over, the crew take the opportunity to carry out a few practice runs with the boat up and down the Broads, before having a much deserved ice cream.
They are late to finish the shift and return to the station hot and tired. Some have things planned with their evening but a big fuss is not made about being late.
It’s a pressured job which can involve dangerous situations and currently dealing with unprecedented call-outs. But the Red Watch crew are a close-knit group who are professional when carrying out their jobs, but don’t mind letting rip with the banter and jokes around the station and on the engine.