Firefighter Chloe Cassar from London Fire Brigade shares her experience of being an apprentice and why she decided to pursue a career in the fire and rescue service.
Becoming a firefighter had never been on my radar as a job I could see myself doing when I was young. Things changed a few years ago in 2019 when my dad’s business, a watch repair workshop of over 40 years, was destroyed by a fire.
Personal experience of fire
I discovered there was a fire at my dad’s business in central London just by chance. I was scrolling through social media and saw a building that looked vaguely familiar which was engulfed in thick black smoke and there were visible flames coming out of smashed windows. I realised it was in fact my dad’s workshop and I made my way there as soon as I could.
When I arrived, I was quickly made aware that there were 12 fire engines on scene. I saw the efforts of firefighters dealing with a stressful situation so calmly and in such a level-headed way when it seemed everything was actually the complete opposite. This is the moment that planted a seed in my head.
Throughout the day, my dad and his business partner were taken care of and kept informed every step of the way. Firefighters did their very best to help with the salvation of high value items. We left that day not knowing what the next few months would bring for the business and if it would even reopen at all.
Quiet determination to join up
Unbeknown to anyone else, a couple of weeks after the tragic event I searched “London Fire Brigade careers” online and found myself applying for the role of a trainee firefighter. I always saw myself as someone who could step up in a time of need and I’ve kept my head when things are chaotic. I previously worked as a weightlifting coach and loved helping and empowering people to achieve their goals. This married well with the idea of becoming a firefighter as I knew I could still help people and educate, just in a different capacity.
While keeping my application a secret to everyone around me, I kept getting through each stage of the recruitment process – first was the online test, then I was invited to an in-person interview which led onto a fitness test a few weeks later. This was shortly followed by a medical and before I knew it, I was being asked for references. It was at this point I realised how hard I had worked to get to that point. Hours of research, training and studying – all while there was a global pandemic going on.
Start of the apprenticeship journey
The day I received my letter of appointment to become a trainee firefighter was the day it all became real to me. I finally told others what I had been secretly doing. A few weeks later I started training for my Level 3 Operational Firefighter Apprenticeship. Throughout the whole process I felt supported in my new journey, not only by the apprenticeship team, but by London Fire Brigade themselves. Taking a leap into something new can be scary, but I was given the tools to succeed in my new chosen career.
Training school was 11 weeks of hands-on learning along with assessments. We had to pass to continue progressing with the apprenticeship. After those first 11 weeks, I had 18 months of on-the-job training at my allocated fire station. Throughout the 18 months I learnt from my Watch and put my skills into practice. I also attended workshops to continue my apprenticeship development.
Joy at passing the End-Point Assessment
At the end of the 18 months, I attended an End-Point Assessment where I was assessed by SFJ Awards, a governing body for apprenticeship accreditation. This means if I ever transfer from London Fire Brigade to another fire and rescue service, my qualification would be accepted. I’m happy to say that I passed and now I work at Battersea Fire Station.
Bringing a different point of view
Being a female in a predominantly male workplace hasn’t phased me – if anything it’s pushed me on. It has helped me empower other females to stand proud in their position and make a difference. Everyone in this job can bring something to the table, we need different points of view, experiences and interactions. Yes, there are still significantly less females on the incident ground, but that number is only growing and I’m proud to be a part of that change.
From an event that was so heart-breaking and tragic, I flipped it on its head and made something amazing out of it. I have found a career that gives me so much job satisfaction. I can happily say my dad’s business reopened 15 months after the fire and now a photograph of his 31-year-old ‘little girl’ in fire gear sits proudly on his workbench.
Photo credit: London Fire Brigade.