The national effort to prevent fires, improve fire safety awareness and react to emergencies is still a very real and challenging one for the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services (FRS). Whilst some regional FRS’ have a wealth of staffing available to them, many in remote locations, covering large populations, and sometimes incidents that can ravage miles of the natural landscape, often rely on a workforce of On-Call Firefighters.
In 2021, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue completed a pilot programme for the Level 3 Operational Firefighter Standard for On-Call Firefighters. This meant for the first time, On-Call Firefighters across the country would now be eligible to enrol and complete this apprenticeship for their role.
Hear from the experts
Watch our On-Call Firefighter Apprenticeship webinar on-demand to find out more.Watch the webinar
We ran a webinar in early 2022 to answer everyone’s questions about the pilot programme and what this means for Fire Stations and Firefighters moving forwards. Mark Palmer, Quality Assurance Manager at Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service and Amanda Charlton, Curriculum Manager, Sports & Protective Services WBL at Bridgwater & Taunton College shared their knowledge and experience and we have captured this information about On-Call Firefighter apprenticeships in some FAQs below.
On-Call Firefighter Apprenticeship FAQs
Is the Wholetime line manager expected to carry out assessment work during additional hours shifts?
No, if an apprentice is completing a task while doing any additional hours, the manager who is overseeing that development training (i.e. crew manager) confirms that element of the task has been completed and meets the criteria of the task. It is then sampled / checked during the 8 weekly review for QA of the programme.
Did the apprentices complete their portfolio reports in works time? How was this achieved?
We have developed the task for them to demonstrate in the workplace. The tasks can be drawn down in any order – so if they go on an incident and they use a ladder, that’s great evidence. However, it might only meet 1 element of the task. When they have planned ladder drills on a drill night, or any additional training, they can focus on the other elements of the task. This is where you need to engage with the stations to support this development.
Moving forward, will you only take transfers from On-Call to Wholetime Duty System Firefighter (WDS) only if they have completed the apprenticeship?
That could be an option in the future, however, the whole subject is forever revolving now. If we brought that in now it could disadvantage other good applicants from the On-Call. This would take time but it’s a real reality for the future pathway as a direct route to interview.
As many On-Call Firefighters have primary employment, how have those that have embarked onto the on-call apprenticeship achieved the required hours?
In our experience, most of our stations don’t need to do any additional hours because of the number of fire calls that they deal with. Smaller, quieter stations may need additional hours. In our trial, On-Call Firefighters at these smaller stations had to do 9 hours a month extra to achieve the required hours for the apprenticeship.
It is still an option to have the additional programme in place for those who are not able to do the extra hours, but the programme is exactly the same.
Are On-Call Firefighters more likely to leave the Service during their development than a Wholetime Firefighters would? How is this managed with the funding of the Apprenticeship and does this reflect against you as a provider?
Although On-Call Firefighters are more likely to leave than Wholetime Firefighters, by giving them this programme and the extra opportunity to develop, we are hoping that this will improve the recruitment process, as well as the motivation and commitment of the On-Call Firefighters. It acts as a real motivator to keep them engaged.
How have you found having the 2 different training routes for On-Call (apprenticeship and non-apprenticeship)? Has this created any gaps?
Our On-Call and Wholetime do exactly the same training, but in a different format. For On-Call, the modules are completed over a longer period of time. They complete exactly the same development tasks over the period of the apprenticeship, and they go through the same gateway assessment for competence and End-Point Assessment.
Is completing the On-Call apprenticeship written into an On-Call Firefighter’s employment contract?
Not at the moment with Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service. They do have an apprenticeship contract when they sign up to the apprenticeship itself, but not in terms of their employment as an On-Call Firefighter. This is something which may develop in the future.
Do On-Call Firefighters in Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue do Safe and Wells?
They can have the opportunity to do that. We just have to ensure that the On-Call Firefighter apprentice gets the quality input for the community engagement side of the apprenticeship. Many of our On-Call stations do a lot of community engagement with a dedicated team, so there is the option for apprentices to join these teams to get the experience.
Is it more difficult to achieve the programme on quiet stations where the firefighters do not get the higher number of shouts?
This is where additional crewing comes in. The On-Call Firefighter apprentices will need to go and support Wholetime stations sometimes in order to get that development time.
What is the average age of apprentices, as this term is sometimes viewed as only applicable to young people?
Looking at the trial cohort, they were aged between 18 and 40. The average age is late 20s to early 30s.
There is no age limit on this apprenticeship, or any of our apprenticeships. Apprenticeships can be for everybody.
How long is the On-Call development period for non-apprenticeship FF’s? If its less than 4 years is there an incentive not to go on the apprenticeship to gain competant pay earlier?
The programme for non-apprentices, is a 4 year programme. If the individual demonstrates competency during tasks while at their station, we can bring them forward through the programme, but this is no different to the apprenticeship programme where we do that too. It’s the same process all the way through.
Do your On-Call Watch Managers need to hold the Assessor qualification?
We have qualified assessors who do the reviews and do the quality assurance of the training.
If On-Call Firefighters are unable to do the apprenticeship, do they follow another qualification i.e. NVQ? Or is there not aligned qualification for those individuals?
No, Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Service do not run another qualification for Operational Firefighters.
Have you asked the existing On-Call Firefighters what they think? And what do the Watch Commanders think of this process?
We have organised briefing sessions for the Watch Commanders and the other firefighters at the stations to explain the process. It is important to make everyone else at the station part of the journey for the apprentices as they are the ones who are developing the firefighters ready for after they complete their apprenticeship.
This is very common in apprenticeships. Management and supervisors in the organisation can vary in terms of engagement and can lead to barriers. Involving them in the process early on can help break down these barriers.
How did you select the cohort of On-Call Apprentices? Did you advertise or ask for volunteers?
For the pilot, we looked at our busiest stations because we wanted to ensure the apprentices would be able to fulfil the required hours. We offered everyone who was being recruited at the time the opportunity to join the apprenticeship programme. We started with 6 initially.
Going forward, it will be offered to all On-Call Firefighters once the programme is up and running.
Did the apprentices other employment impact on progress at all?
Not during the trial. There are benefits to the employers as well, as it improves their abilities and behaviours. For the employer, there is an improvement for them. The recruitment process for the apprenticeship programme is rigorous to ensure that everyone enrolled is able to commit fully.
Did the apprentices complete their portfolio reports in works time, how was this achieved?
The portfolio tasks should be counted as off the job training and therefore should be as part of paid hours. The learner will be required to complete their learning journal every week (around 10-15 minutes work) and upload any of their required evidence (no more than ½ hour at a time).
Our experience has shown that this has been easily achieved at end of operational shouts, or as part of a training session such as a drill night. The portfolio automatically captures the off the job training time and provides an ongoing calculation so this eliminates any need to do manual calculations.
Moving forward, will you only take transfers from On-Call to Wholetime Firefighter if they have completed the apprenticeship?
That could be an option in the future however the whole subject is forever revolving now. If we brought that in now it could disadvantage other good applicants from the On-Call. This would take time but it’s a real reality for the future pathway as a direct route to interview.