In the UK, there are approximately 18,000 retained firefighters who cover around 60% of the country, yet many people are unaware of the vital role these professionals play in keeping us all safe.
What is a retained firefighter?
If you are unaware of these vital teams within the Fire and Rescue Services, they are professional firefighters who are called upon when they are needed, rather than ‘wholetime’ crews that take on the role full-time.
Like their wholetime colleagues, retained firefighters can be called to all manner of incidents, including: fires, floods, road traffic collisions, chemical spills and any other emergencies that require their trained assistance.
However, unlike their full-time colleagues, retained firefighters tend to operate to a different schedule. Many are based in rural areas and crew one or two appliances at a solely retained fire station (which are unmanned for much of the time). However, some are also based in urban stations with their wholetime colleagues to support these operations as well.
Expertise on call
All retained firefighters have other occupations and have to balance these commitments. Generally, these teams spend a few hours each week on training sessions (or other pre-arranged duties) and often only attend the fire station when they have received an emergency callout.
Unsurprisingly, excellent communications are a key part of the retained firefighter’s toolkit. Each firefighter carries a pocket alerter which summons them immediately when they are required. For the sake of safety, a maximum of 5 to 6 minutes is typically given to report to the fire station and to mobilise the necessary appliances. Therefore, instant communications are vital to the mix.
It is also a reality for the Fire and Rescue services that incidents cannot be predicted – some full time stations respond to over 800 calls a year, whilst others may respond to less than 50. Undoubtedly the uncertain nature of callouts means that the crews on standby rely completely on the right communications to ensure they are summoned and can reach the emergency – often in life or death situations.
Communications to rely upon
The pocket alerters are perhaps the most vital communications device to any retained firefighter. In much the same way that a medical professional may carry a ‘bleeper’, these crews need a system which can contact them at any time and without fail.
Multitone offers a number of paging and communications options that are perfect for retained firefighters. Paging is still the most reliable and dependable system to get emergency communications through to the right people (especially in a big emergency when public networks can be swamped by traffic and become problematic). Equally, pagers have extraordinary battery life compared to a smartphone for instance (we are talking months of standby time!)
Staying in touch
The integrated communications solution at the fire station can be based on Multitone’s i-Message which is perfect for routing messages to whomever and wherever they are needed. This unified messaging platform securely integrates email, text, voicemail, and video to a wide range of devices. Typically this could be a pager or smart app in the fire services. It is the perfect solution for ensuring effective and timely communications between the station and any mixed team of firefighters, wherever they are and whichever communications method they choose.
Undoubtedly, retained firefighters are vital to the Fire and Rescue Services and the essential support they provide for the whole community. Whilst communications trends and technology changes, the responsibilities and needs of retained firefighters stay much the same – they need to be called to action at a moment’s notice. Having the right communications systems in place means these professionals can fully support the public and community, exactly when they are needed.