Call the Fire and Rescue service in most rural areas across the country and the firefighters that respond could well be familiar faces in the local farming community.
That’s because farmers not only live and work in the countryside, but they also offer an unrivalled knowledge of their local patch, a good mix of practical skills, a positive approach to problem solving and a flexible lifestyle.
As a result, they can make the perfect candidates for what’s called an 'on-call' firefighter – someone who lives and works near the fire station and can commit to a few hours a week to help respond in the event of an emergency.
Particularly sought after
In North Yorkshire, as in most counties across the region, rural fire stations manned mainly by on-call staff dominate and farmer firefighters are sought after members of the crew.
In Whitby, farmers Paul Cornforth and Phil Prudom have together clocked up more than 30 years in the role and say it’s a collaboration that works well.
"We bring some really useful assets to the team," says Phil, "but in return we gain a lot from our involvement, not least a regular income made up of a set monthly salary topped up with individual call-out payments."
Paul, an arable farmer, agrees: "Farming can be an increasingly lonely occupation, so it makes a refreshing change to be part of a team where everyone looks out for each other," he said.
“There are high pressure situations, but you know you’re there to do a job and you know what you need to do, so it is hugely satisfying when you know you have helped save lives and property.
“I saw it as a chance to do something a bit different and felt that if I could do it, then I should, and help give something back to the community I’ve grown up in.”
It’s very flexible
"Although our contract requires us to make a time commitment, everyone’s situation is different, so you’re able to mix up weekday, weekend and night time options to suit your circumstances," added Phil.
"You are not expected to give every hour of every day, but just provide the cover needed to keep the station operational."
“Of course, you never know when you will get paged,” adds Paul, who has been an on-call firefighter for 20 years. You might get two call-outs in a week or three in a day and then nothing for a fortnight, but we all just get used to it.
“Of course, a bleeping pager can be awkward sometimes – like when you’ve got the combine rolling and you’re battling the weather – but we can usually make up the time.”
Training is provided
Everyone taken on as a firefighter is provided with training that can also benefit farmers in their day job.
An obvious example is a course in Immediate Emergency Care – a higher level of first aid training that farmers say allows them to respond quickly in the event of an on-farm accident.
Other useful courses include LGV driver training, management training and risk management training. The ability to carry out advanced risk assessments is something that is required more and more in farming, says Phil.
Benefits of employing farmers
Graeme Casper is the station manager for the Scarborough District and says farmers bring a lot of valuable knowledge to the job.
“Detailed local knowledge of farms, fields, rivers and so on can make a huge difference to our response times,” he said. “We do get quite a lot of incidents on farms – not just fires, but instances where people or animals are stuck in machinery or ditches for example – so it helps to have people on the crew who know not only where the farm is, but also how a piece of machinery works or how to handle animals when they are in stressful situations.
“Thanks to the number of farmers on-call in the service, it’s rare we don't have access to that specialist knowledge, but we are always on the look-out for new recruits as people’s situations can change and force them to give up their firefighting role. Occasionally, we will have a waiting list for new recruits, but not that often.”
Find out more
If you are interested in finding out more, drop into your local fire station or call 01609 780150. Alternatively, visit the dedicated website for on-call firefghters.