Ben Pike, Career One Deputy Editor, News Limited Network
Republished with Permission
TINKY, life-threatening, exhausting and underpaid: why would anyone want to make a career change and become a firefighter?
Fire and Rescue NSW will open its doors on January 30 in an effort to find 120 of the best rookie firefighters.
The service expects more than 4000 accountants, tradies, academics, salespeople and other random candidates will be put through a grueling physical and mental recruitment process to separate the champs from the chumps.
With an average age of 27, hopefuls will have to run up stairs of smoky buildings with 20kg packs on, drag mammoth hoses, lift ladders and rescue test dummies.
There has been a concerted drive to get more women and ethnically diverse firefighters into the ranks but Fire and Rescue NSW Chief Superintendent Craig Brierley denied the bar is being lowered.
“I joined this job in 1985 when the first two females joined the organisation and I can say then that it was the same story,” he said.
“There is a perception that we’ve changed this, and lowered this. There are no quotas, no allocations.
“It has always been a white, Anglo Saxon male dominated career, but each year we get more women that apply. The more that apply, more of them have the chance to get through.”
Women like 25-year-old Alison Douglas, a Cronulla resident who decided to get out of sales and follow the career path of her father.
Ms Douglas, part of the 4 per cent of firefighters who are female, said women have just as much right to be there as the blokes.
“We all do exactly the same test to get into the job,” she said.
“There is a minimum requirement, no matter if you’re male or female. You do the same jobs.
“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses whether it be physical or mental. We work as a team to get the job done.”
Dee Why’s Matt Pridham, 30, was working as a wharfie and builder’s labourer in Port Kembla before making the switch to becoming a qualified firefighter.
He said firefighting was the ultimate job for people who want to make a career change.
“The fire brigade hardly ever recruits people straight out of high school or those without some sort of background that is going to help them,” he said.
“It’s very challenging, dirty, there will be sewerage pipes melting, there might be asbestos burning … But the more we train the more we can mitigate those risks. You have to be passionate each day to come in and do your drills.”
He said dealing with traumatic car accidents is something you have to learn to deal with.
“It’s just a job that needs to be done. When someone’s leg is mangled, for example, you need to focus on moving that piece of metal out of the way to get that person out,” he said.
“To a certain extent compassion has to make way to rational thought. You have your moment after where you think it is pretty traumatic. But I always think about that victim’s family.
“People’s positive attitudes mean a lot to us.”