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Christmas for a retained on-call firefighter

Michelle Dudman and retained firefighters

Despite the difficulties of a year in lockdown many of us will be able to enjoy tucking into the turkey or unwrapping gifts with work far from our minds.

But, for retained on-call firefighters at locations across the county, there is always the chance the alerter will sound and they must be ready to deal with almost anything at a moment’s notice.

On Christmas Day – as any other day – they could be called upon to deal with a house fire, a road traffic collision, a chemical spill, or a river rescue.

Retained On-call Support Officer, Michelle Dudman, who is based in the West area of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, has received those Christmas Day calls.

“I wasn’t eating my Christmas dinner, but we had begun to unwrap presents so, of course, that was on hold till later.”

Michelle, who also serves as a retained on-call firefighter at Tutbury, says her crew must respond and attend their nearest station within 5 minutes.

Most retained on-call firefighters have permanent jobs and carry an ‘alerter’ with them. When it sounds there is a rush to get to the station and get to that call.

“It could come at any time and you have to think where are my keys, where are my boots, while getting to the station as quickly as possible. “We don’t know what it is when the call comes in and often have to build that picture as we drive there. It could be that someone is trapped inside a house or building that is on fire. We’re absolutely committed to doing our best for them.”

Michelle says that from a work perspective Christmas Day is the same as any other day, or in this case, Friday.

“We have a rolling pattern of hours each week that we commit to, so when there is a Bank Holiday or Christmas it just continues as normal.

“Christmas Day doesn’t change too much, there is no wine with lunch but other than that if there are no fire calls then I carry on with my day as normal.”

Christmas is, of course, very different this year after a demanding nine months dealing with lockdown and other changes due to Covid-19.

“We would normally have had a meal out by now for all the crew at Tutbury which we haven’t been able to do. We are still doing a Secret Santa but the present opening is going to be done on a Zoom video call so hopefully we can still make it a bit of an evening together and have a few laughs along the way.”

Michelle says Covid-19 has tested the resolve of her crew of 12 firefighters, but they’ve been able to keep positive.

“We all get along, being on call is like having a second family. We have had one crew member suffer from Covid-19 and a few family members and kids needing to have tests so it affects us all.

“You don’t just have the crew to worry about but their families too. We all pull together to keep our truck available as much as we can, so when anyone has had to isolate the rest of the crew are putting in extra hours to cover so that we can still be available for fire calls.”

Michelle adds that their regular training and call outs mean the crew gets to see each other quite a lot.

“Our training sessions have to be split, so they have to be planned a lot different to how they would’ve been pre-Covid-19. I do miss not having the whole crew together at once but we are getting used to this and making it work for us.”

Michelle jokes she’d like a brand new fire engine at Tutbury, but will probably ‘settle for slippers.’

“I must be getting old! I dread to think what is coming my way in the secret Santa though, that really could be anything.”

For more information about retained on-call firefighters and opportunities with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, visit: https://www.staffordshirefire.gov.uk/careers/retained-on-call-firefighters/.

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