Sarah Woolley is an on-call firefighter at Longridge station. As well as responding to incidents, she manages her own laundry and ironing business.
How did you become an on-call firefighter?
I applied to be a wholetime firefighter when I was 19, but I was too small! I was really fit and I was told I’d be okay, so I drove to South Wales and I got pulled out of the line because I was two inches too short. You used to have to be 5’6 to apply, but there isn’t a height limit anymore. I didn’t know the on-call service was still going until I saw an advert for on-call firefighters on Facebook a few years ago. I tried just out of curiosity really because I thought it’s now or never!
After I was unsuccessful the first time, I applied for the police and then I changed my mind and went flying for 20 years as cabin crew. I’m used to jumping out of bed being on call with the airline! We’d get an hour and a half to check in if an aircraft was delayed or someone had called in sick. At 2am it could be right we need you in Barbados for a week! There’s a lot of similarities with the procedures and shift patterns, a lot of cabin crew have moved to the fire service since all the airline redundancies. I worked for Thomas Cook and six of the girls I know went to the fire service. I think what attracted me was the variety as I’m not a ‘sit in an office’ type of person.
How long have you been on call?
I started at Longridge Fire Station in June 2019. I was doing two weeks flying and two weeks on call until I got made redundant from Thomas Cook in the September, so I started a laundry and ironing business! It works well together; I was trying to find something that would enable me to still be on call so starting my own business was a no-brainer really.
Did you attend drill nights before you applied?
Yes, I came to three or four drills and then did the assessment day which I didn’t pass first time, so I carried on coming to drills and then went back and did my assessment as I’d only failed on one thing which was a shoulder press because I wasn’t used to it. I would encourage anyone interested to come to drill nights to see what we do and get to know people.
Can you be flexible with your working hours?
I have two children and they were only five and eight when I started on call, so I go on call at 9am until 3pm to do the school run and then come back on call at 7pm when homework’s done and the kids are sorted! I didn’t know you could do that until my interview.
Is it different from what you expected before you applied?
Not really, other than having to get your strength up. I went for it with my fitness as I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it is. Running in wellies was a bit of a shock! I’d been practicing everything else from the information on the website, so I was prepared for the tests themselves but running in heavy fire kit was definitely harder than I thought! The development and training is also a lot more in depth than I expected. I really enjoy the learning and taking it all in, you learn everything from slurry rescues to aircraft crashes.
Do you feel a strong team spirit at Longridge?
Yes, I felt that straight away, we’re quite close-knit. I used to come down to the station a lot when I was doing my development work, I was here all the time. You don’t have to just come to the station on your drill nights – you can pop down anytime.
What type of incidents do you attend?
You get a lot of fire alarms – people usually burning mushrooms or toast!
We attend car accidents, barn fires, and we have the fells nearby too so we’re always looking out for fires. We also cover Preston station on standby if needed so that’s good because we get bigger incidents as it’s in the city centre and you learn a lot more.
It goes in fits and starts, in March I attended 14 incidents by the middle of the month whereas in April we didn’t attend one job. The first time my pager went off I was really excited then I got stuck at road works, by the time I arrived at the station they’d already gone without me, so I was upset I missed it!
What advice would you give someone looking to apply?
Definitely apply, no matter what your capabilities are. I wish I’d done it years earlier to be honest. A lot of people don’t realise that you get paid, they think we’re volunteer firefighters! I think if you have any remote interest, you should come and see what we do, keep a good level of fitness and believe in yourself!
Check out other on-call firefighter stories below:
Find out more about being an on-call firefighter and apply here: www.lancsfirerescue.org.uk/careers