The largest ever intake of on-call trainee firefighters has started at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.
This record recruitment level comes after a spike in applications following a series of high-profile campaigns during the past six months.
The 26 people began the eight-day course on Monday (November 20) whereas previous intakes have, on average, had eight trainees.
The on-call trainees will learn ladder, hose and fire ground techniques and will do further training to add to their skills on a regular basis as well as attending weekly drill nights.
Academy Station Manager Jason Boh said: “Having a new intake of on-call firefighters is great news for the people of Hampshire.
“These dedicated life-savers fit being a firefighter in between other jobs and family commitments, and come from all walks of life.
“These people are part of the fabric that holds every fire service in the country together and the world-class training they get at the Academy helps make them the best.”
Hampshire is one of the first fire services in the country to have a team of dedicated support officers tasked with promoting the vital role.
The eight officers have been making contact with businesses based near stations, attending community events, taking part in career days and launching targeted social media campaigns.
The three women and 23 men will be providing vital cover across the county in 16 stations in busy areas such as Basingstoke, Waterlooville and Alton to rural locations including Droxford, Stockbridge and Grayshott.
There are already other trainees signed up for upcoming courses including some from the New Forest who signed up after speaking to the retained duty system (RDS) support officers at the New Forest Show.
To be eligible for the paid role people must live or work close to a fire station and be able to get there within just a few minutes.
This round of recruitment comes just weeks after HFRS took on 27 full-time firefighters to work across the county.
HFRS is also one of the fire services heading up a major national project to attract more retained firefighters across the country.
Eastleigh Station Manager Paul Illman, who is one of the people leading this countrywide campaign, said: “Being an on-call firefighter gives a person the chance to help protect their community, develop the confidence that comes with learning new skills and the knowledge that they are part of a team.
“You may have never thought of being a firefighter but have just the skills we are looking for. This is a job where no two days are the same and you will make a difference.”
He went on to say that work was also being done to attract trainees from groups that are under represented in the service nationwide.
On-call firefighters come from all backgrounds and include florists, supermarket workers, hairdressers, council workers and stay at home parents.
They also fill a variety of roles in the service with firefighters not only attending incidents but also engaging with the community and passing on vital safety tips.
New trainee and fashion graduate Jo Gamblin, 40, from Droxford, is returning to work after 12 years as a stay at home mum.
She said: “I saw the sign outside the fire station when I was taking my kids to school. I thought I would like a new challenge and now I do have time on my hands.
“I had never considered being a firefighter before but after finding out more about it is sounded like something I could really enjoy and be good at.
“My children are proud of my new job and the on-call system works around the hours you can do. I would urge other ladies to look at the prospect of being a firefighter.”
Dad-of-one Richard Burnet, 30, from Hamble, works at GE Aviation. His firm has supported his decision and agreed to let him leave work when his pager goes off.
He said: “I was told about the on-call recruitment campaign by firefighters and later saw it on social media and thought it would be a job I could bring my skills to.
“I had never applied to the fire service but this seemed a great way to contribute to the community and the company were fully behind that.”
As well as being of service to the community to which they belong employers benefit from having staff with additional skills and leadership training.
Before this intake there were 803 on-call firefighters in Hampshire cover working on 46 of the county’s 51 stations. The post was created nationwide after World War II.
Group Manager of Learning and Development Ty Whitlock said: “I am full of admiration for people who, in addition to jobs and other commitments, find the time to make the communities of Hampshire safer.
“Our new trainees will learn amazing life-saving skills and get the chance to be part of a team while getting paid and carrying out an extremely rewarding job.
“Recruiting on-call staff is a challenge for every fire service. We still have vacancies and I would urge anyone who lives or works close to a station and wants to make a real difference to people’s lives to get in touch.”