Our reporter plays firefighter for the day

Kaye gets to grips with using the hose. Picture: Neil Hanna
Kaye gets to grips with using the hose. Picture: Neil Hanna
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SO there I was, in full fire-fighting gear, dragging a ­casualty to safety.

There was no time to waste as I ran across the yard with a heavy hose, ready for action.

Then it was time to race against the clock to put ­together a specialist piece of equipment.

Of course, the team at the Scottish Fire Services College at Gullane weren’t trusting me with any real fires – but this was a taste of what budding firefighters have to endure to prove they have what it takes.

I had visions of a repeat of the scene in Bridget Jones’ diary when she humiliates ­herself with a rather un-
ladylike maneouvre down a fireman’s pole.

But instead, it was a refreshing – and challenging – ­insight into how firefighters are selected.

The recruitment process is gruelling, but rightly so, when lives could depend on the right candidate.

As part of a wider appeal for new recruits, a drive for more women and minority groups to join has been launched.

Today, would-be firefighters can go along to a “come and try day” to see if the job suits them. It goes without saying that physical strength and bravery are prerequisites, but the rest of the requirements are more open-minded than you may expect.

Applicants don’t even need to say whether they have a degree or left school aged 16. “It’s good to have that mix,” said Garry MacKay, programme manager at the college. “Academic people may need practical support and vice-versa, and we also get people from trade backgrounds.

“We’re asking people to be diverse, and wanting people from a range of backgrounds.”

Instructors and watch managers Gareth Price and Gary Dowdall put me through my paces during my tests at ­Gullane this week.

The short tests are designed to be as life-like as ­possible – challenging upper body strength, initiative, and ­stamina.

So after getting suited and booted, I had to visualise that I was rescuing a casualty from danger – dragging a 55kg dummy across the yard, being careful not to trip on any ­hazards.

Next I was presented with an intimidating scene – a row of heavy-duty equipment including a hose and pipe which I had to carry back and forth between two cones, at a safe jog. Carrying a bar-bell – which represented other types of service equipment – was a definite test of my resolve.

The short exercise was enough to prove what a ­physically demanding role it can be – I was out of breath, and overheating in all the ­protective gear.

When I was asked to put a complicated looking piece of equipment together, I ­panicked that I would make a mess of it.

I had just five minutes to follow a diagram, construct the equipment and dismantle it again.

The pressure was on, so I could only imagine what it would be like in a real-life fire or rescue situation, where every second counts.

Now for my favourite bit, pulling out the hose reel at speed.

I had to muster all my strength to pull the red coil up to eye level, pushing myself to run across the yard as fast as possible, as would be the case in an actual emergency.

It took a bit of practice, but I started to get the hang of it. I also got a shot with the smaller hose, enjoying spraying water over the yard, despite there not being a fire in sight.

So I’d survived some of the practical tests – but if I was an applicant, I would also have had to get through some other gruelling challenges, including a 33-metre ladder climb and a test to see how I would cope in a confined space. Potential recruits go through the ­practical stages only once they have passed initial 
psychometric and arithmetic tests, as well as a bleep test to assess fitness levels.

And after the practical tests, successful candidates progress to interview before the final ­selection process.

The lucky recruits will ­embark on a 13-week training course at Gullane before their first placements and a three-year probation period.

What struck me throughout my afternoon of work experience was the sheer variety of tasks firefighters have to be ready to perform, even aside from blazes, from serious road accidents to chemical ­spillages.

The guys at Gullane told me I’d done well – but they could have just been being polite.

You never know, if journalism doesn’t work out for me, I may well apply.

It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted – but I bet it’s difficult to find a more ­rewarding and varied job.

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com