Yorkshire Firefighters, a new BBC Two series, is lighting up viewers’ television screens this summer. DCFO Dave Walton tells FIRE all about it
The production of the series has been something we’ve been working on in the background for almost a year now and we are delighted it is finally being shared with the world.
The unique four-part series takes viewers on to the frontline with our staff, keeping our communities safe during the pandemic. It is a rare chance to go behind the scenes of the fire and rescue service with our people, who we are so very proud of, at a moment in history that will be remembered forever.
Filmed using the latest technology, viewers are brought closer than ever before to real-life emergencies, seeing what life is like every day, when your job is to save lives.
Our service has 900 firefighters with a diverse range of personnel dedicated to serving a population of more than two million people. We cover areas that are varied in their landscape, from inner city to remote moorland, often just a short drive away.
The programme also shows the workings of our Control Room – often the hidden heroes of our response.
Each episode shows the real people behind the visors as they help communities during last winter.
From bringing under control one of the biggest fires seen in Bradford in decades, to helping vulnerable people at home, the programme champions the multi-faceted role of a firefighter. And there is plenty of Yorkshire warmth and humour along the way too.
In common with many other fire and rescue services, we have spoken with numerous production companies in the past about their conceptual ideas for a TV show about the service. The contact with Wise Owl Films and the way in which they pitched their idea, resonated with us from early stages.
Wise Owl Films, the Leeds-based factual label of Lime Pictures, produced Yorkshire Firefighters for BBC Two and it was commissioned by BBC England.
We wanted to show the fire and rescue service in the 21st century and dispel some of the myths and stereotypes that exist about the job that we all do. The way that the documentary was made meant that there was no opportunity to ‘stage manage’ the footage that was captured, or the interviews that were given.
Trust was a huge part of the planning discussions and the actual delivery. We also needed trust at all sorts of levels between us as managers of the service, our crews, the community and the production team. I will not pretend that the project has been wholly straightforward, but we’ve worked through all sorts of issues between us, and it has been hard work to do that, but I think that the end-product justifies this level of effort.
We set out to show that the role is about so much more than firefighting. We wanted to show the diversity of our staff and the community which we, and they, all serve and live within. We wanted people to see us as an employer of choice that they could aspire to be part of regardless of who they were or what their background was.
Importantly, we wanted to be natural and authentic. We are an organisation that is good at what we do, and our staff enjoy what we do, and love serving the public. We wanted to show the ups and downs of daily life, without a veneer, being honest about the daily life of a firefighter in 2021.
Firefighter Mohammad Quadafi took part in the documentary while serving at Huddersfield Fire Station. He commented: “It was a really great experience. By taking part in the documentary, I really wanted to get across what a great job this is, especially to a range of people from diverse backgrounds and communities, including Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds who are underrepresented in the Fire and Rescue Service.
“I hope the documentary also highlights the role of female firefighters within the sector and helps to spread our message that the fire and rescue service is a place for all.”
When it came to the actual filming, the outbreak of the pandemic was a real challenge to the project. We had to quickly re-evaluate the agreed ways of working and the viability of continuing. We took the decision very early on that the pandemic was part of our story as well as the community we serve, and that subject to revising our risk assessments we would carry on. The documentary shows us warts and all in the Covid era, but powerfully shares the perspective of our staff, how they coped and their focus on mental wellbeing.
I am so proud of what we have achieved and so proud of our staff who took part.
One of those was Firefighter Lauren Nicholls, who works at Hunslet Fire Station, and features in the documentary following her journey as a new recruit in her first year with us. “At first I was a bit nervous about having a film crew at work,” she commented. “But they quickly settled into life on station, and it was not long before they were part of the family!
“The documentary is great for showing people what we really do in the fire and rescue service and what life is like behind the scenes. My family have seen the previews and absolutely love it. They are so proud of me. It’s been a great experience all round.”
The show is an authentic and honest depiction of life in our service during one of the most challenging periods in the history of the fire and rescue service. It is about us and tells our story, but I hope that it also reflects well on other services to, showing what a fantastic service we all provide.
TV bosses at the BBC have also been delighted with the outcome.
Aisling O’Connor, Head of TV Commissioning for BBC England, commented: “This series captures the lives of these brilliant firefighters, and highlights their dedication and determination to keeping people safe especially during a national emergency.”
And reflecting on the experience, the producers called the access they were given a “real privilege” during a difficult winter and a global pandemic.
Creative Director of Wise Owl Films, Mark Robinson, said: “Not only do viewers get to see footage – captured by helmet cameras – that plunges them into the heart of very dangerous scenarios, they also see day-to-day life within the stations, behind closed doors.”
The first episode aired on July 29 at 2000. It is running weekly every Thursday after that for three more weeks throughout August. If you miss it, you can catch up via the BBC iPlayer.