south wales young firefightersAs part of our training focus in the February edition of FIRE Magazine (click here to subscribe), South Wales Fire and Rescue Service spoke to us about its programme for training young firefighters:

Young firefighters meet for a ‘drill night’ one evening per week for two and a half hours, occurring over 40 weeks of the year in line with the school term. We have ten branches in South Wales, covering each unitary authority served, offering opportunities to 235 young people at any one time. South Wales Fire and Rescue Service meets all costs - no contribution is required from the young people or their families, aside from their commitment to attend. Young people undertake a BTEC in Fire and Rescue Services in the Community. We use both operational and non-operational instructors to provide positive role models whilst teaching key skills in line with the BTEC syllabus.

Life skills such as communication, team work, self-confidence and self-discipline are developed through fire and rescue service-related activities, such as basic firefighting, general community safety and first aid. Young people learn about important fire safety issues, and are encouraged to promote fire safety awareness at home and in the local community. They take part in a range of activities including practical drill demonstrations using hydrants, hoses and ladders, whilst working towards an intermediate Level 2 BTEC in Fire and Rescue Services in the Community qualification. This is a huge achievement for many of our young people, for some of whom this is the only nationally-recognised qualification that they expect to gain as a result of being not in employment, education or training (NEET).

The BTEC format has provided the opportunity for the inclusion of subjects relevant to SWFRS, including raising awareness about arson reduction, and home fire safety. Input is also given on antisocial behaviour to contribute to a reduction in firefighter attacks. There is also a requirement for each young firefighter to carry out a Home Fire Safety Check on their home as part of the BTEC. Part of the course involves a community engagement project which aims to engender citizenship as well as raise the profile of the Young Firefighter Scheme within the community. There is also a requirement for each branch to attend a minimum of one Flag Day event per year for the same purpose. Fundraising forms an additional part of the syllabus. A major element of this is activity is to raise awareness in young firefighters and their social network about the work and the impact of both local and national charitable causes. This process will encourage young firefighters to develop an appreciation for charities and the valuable work that they do - therefore encouraging the development of their social consciousnesses. It is this also provides an annual revenue stream for such causes, which is celebrated and highlighted through local media.

There are ten branches that each have a branch manager and a team of instructors, comprised of both operational and non-operational staff. All staff have an enhanced CRB check before they begin working with the young firefighters. All instructors are required to undertake suitable skills training. This includes Operational Youth Engagement Supervision training, non-operational Youth Engagement Supervision, child safeguarding training, and BTEC assessor training.

The Young Fire Fighters have been involved with lots of different activities. For instance, they have completed an exchange programme with Young Fire Fighters from Germany - hosting 25 German YFFs in South Wales, and also visiting Germany to take part in their 25th birthday anniversary celebrations. The have also been involved in the ‘Blazing to Serbia’ trip, which involved taking old fire engines to be donated to the Fire Service in Serbia. They also carried out a demonstration of their skills to HRH Prince Charles.

The Young Firefighter Scheme works with several partners in order to provide opportunities to young people. These include:
• The Fire Service Youth Training Association (FSYTA)
• Schools
• Local education authorities
• Pupil referral units

The evaluation process for the young firefighter is designed to capture data linked to both the physical provision of the scheme as well as attitude change. All young people when they start will complete an initial attitude behavioural questionnaire, which is repeated at the end of year one, and at the final term of the programme. The scores are monitored to investigate any evidence of behavioural changes.

Whilst being a young firefighter does not give you automatic access to become a wholetime firefighter, it does give individuals an insight into the Fire Service to see whether it is a profession they would like to work in. A number of our young firefighters have been recruited to become employees of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.