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London Fire Brigade: A rewarding role

NOT LOOKING BACK: Karen Bell joined LFB at the age of 42

A CAREER with London’s Fire and Rescue Service, one of the largest of its kind in the world, means no two days are the same.

You are given countless opportunities to progress through the ranks, develop expertise as part of a number of specialist units or simply build a fulfilling career in the area you enjoy the most.

If you think a career within the fire service is just for young men, Watch Manager Karen Bell will tell you differently. Bell joined the fire brigade in 2010 aged 42 and now can’t imagine doing anything else.

As a 5ft 4in black woman who wears glasses, she’s often the last person people expect to see getting off the fire truck and being in charge.

“I don’t look like the stereotypical firefighter so people often ask me, ‘Do you do what they do? So you go into the fires as well?’ and I find myself having to explain the role of a firefighter and explain that women can become firefighters. Your gender or your sex, your nationality, your ethnicity and your age are not barriers.

The only age barrier is you have to be over 17-and-a-half, but apart from that there’s no other barrier to becoming a firefighter if you have the abil- ity to do the role and the drive, and the enthusiasm,” Bell said.

As well as her positive attitude, Bell credits the incredible support the service provides to its staff, with groups tailored to underrepresented groups for helping her overcome challenges in the workplace.

SUPPORT

“We have BEAM – which is the black and ethnic minority section of the Fire Brigade Union and we work hand in hand with management of LFB to support our BME firefighters. There are lots of career opportunities for men and women and fantastic support networks. In particular the women’s advisory committee that offers invaluable help and advice. You never feel alone in this job,” she said.

Bell is no stranger to changing perceptions about what it takes to be a firefighter. One of the major myths she is keen to debunk is that there’s a lot more to working in the London Fire Brigade than running into blazing buildings.

“Something as simple as going to the rescue of a small child who has been accidentally locked inside their home with parents frantically trying to get the child out of the house – that isn’t your stereotypical day and that’s not what people usually associate with being a firefighter. But it’s not just about darting into major incidents or fire fuelled incidents because that’s actually only one portion of our work,” she said.

“Approximately only eight per cent of our time is dealing with fires and other emergencies. The rest of our time is actually dealing with fire prevention and training.”

To find out more about careers with The London Fire Brigade visitlondon-fire.gov.uk or contact outreach@london-fire.gov.uk to attend a FireFighter Information Days

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