Reporter Laura Burge visited Hitchin Fire Station to experience an afternoon of being a firefighter, and see the work that staff and volunteers do there.

WHEN a young child is asked what they want to do when they are older, a firefighter is probably a top ten answer. I myself was never one of those children, but after donning my kit and putting on my hat and boots, I can certainly see the appeal.

What many people probably don’t realise is just how physically demanding the job can be. I was admittedly one of those people, but my aching limbs the next day were testament to the fact that it is actually very hard work.

We begin by cutting the roof off a car, using tools which can apparently “have your leg off” if not used properly- a statement which of course, fills me with confidence.

It takes about 20 minutes to do, (I’m told that it can be done in 10), and it’s good fun, although of course I have no injured person in the seat who needs to be quickly and safely rushed to hospital. And the tools are so heavy, that I have to be helped out for a great part of the procedure.

Next, I’m told I’ll be climbing a ladder to a first floor storey building. Luckily I have the advantage of being undeterred by heights, but when I reach the top and have to swing over into the building I worry slightly that I may slip and fall. I’m in good hands though as I’m helped to safety, before climbing back down again.

I’m also shown how to put out a (pretend) fire with a hose, perhaps my favourite part of the afternoon. Once again, the physical aspect is surprising, and you have to work hard not to get knocked off your feet by the pressure of the water.

After what feels like what can only be described as a workout, I’m told a little more about the work of the team, and learn that whilst fighting fires is clearly an important part of the job, there are so many other aspects too.

“We’re about fire prevention as much as we are about tackling it,” said station commander David Rees.

“We try and engage with the community, and have a number of events in the pipeline to raise awareness. We do fire safety checks, and give advice to people.

“Our volunteers are a tremendous help too- they are a great support, but we’re always looking for more.”

Fire fighting is a competitive job to get into- there can be 1,000 applications countywide for perhaps 20 posts- with a rigorous procedure to go through before being successful.

But once you’ve made it, each and every day is different, with no predictions at the beginning of the day of what you could later be doing.

“It can completely depend each week on the number of calls we will go on,” said one firefighter.

“It’s usually about 700 a year, so maybe two a day, but sometimes it could be several calls in one day, and then we could go a few days without any.

“This week, we’ve had a chimney fire and we also had someone who locked themselves out of their house and left their one-month-old baby inside.”

As if on cue, the alarm sounds ring and within a mere couple of minutes, the crew are driving away in their fire engine, blue lights blaring and sirens ringing, on the way to their next job.

* Many thanks to all at Hitchin Fire Station for giving up their time and effort. For information on volunteering, contact the station on 01462 666 800.