In 2019 the National Apprenticeship Service highlighted the range of apprenticeship opportunities available. Their ‘Fire it Up’ campaign has raised awareness of apprenticeships and continues to do so. Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service (MFRS) is more aware than most of how to deal with fire and has seen great interest in apprenticeships to be an Operational Firefighter since their introduction in September 2019. This interest has continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 2,000 people applied to become one of Merseyside’s future firefighters back in November 2020. The process shortlisted these to 350 potential recruits, who should have undergone their fitness test this week. Unfortunately, delays caused by the pandemic mean the will have to wait a little longer to demonstrate their physical prowess and determination to keep their communities safe from fire.

MFRS is fired up to see them in action as they try out to for just one of the many apprenticeships on offer within the Service.

Ashley Roberts, Apprenticeship Manager at MFRS, says: “This is just one of the adaptions we are having to make in our ongoing recruitment and training programme to cope with the pandemic and ensure we keep everyone safe. When lockdown restrictions ease, we will resume our fitness tests and assessment of all 350 people.”

MFRS’ response standards remain among the fastest in the country. In 2020, firefighters responded to nearly 16,000 incidents, including fires, road traffic collisions, animal and water rescues. The Service works closely with police, health service, local authorities and other partner agencies to plan for major incidents such as train derailments, floods, chemical leaks and terrorist attacks.

Of course, MFRS doesn’t just recruit firefighters, with a fantastic team of support staff working tirelessly in the background across a number of roles to ensure the service continues to keep the communities of Merseyside and beyond safe. Roles range from procurement to computer-aided design, business administration, facilities management, human resources and many more.

Many of these roles offer apprenticeship opportunities. Training programmes have been adapted to ensure these continue with virtual learning, covering the theoretical aspects of the apprenticeship.

Ashley adds: “We use the services of local colleges in the region to provide specialist training, ensuring the subject matter experts offer the best support for apprentices, supported with the training and development in the organisation.”

At present, there are around 120 apprentices working within MFRS – 93 of these are operational firefighters. Ashley explains: “We train these apprentices through our employer provider route. That means we are both the employer and the training provider. As you can imagine, many of the skills and knowledge needed to respond to fire and rescue incidents has been built up through years of experience and we are well qualified to deliver the practical and theoretical elements of this. We have specialised training facilities and equipment at our Training and Development Academy, in addition to apprentices learning their craft out on calls on station supported by very competent and experienced managers.”

The employer provider route is about to be used to train Fire Control Operator apprentices who respond to and co-ordinate emergency calls. Eight new Fire Control Operators have just been recruited to join the team who handled 20,286 emergency 999 calls in 2020. The newest recruits will work their way through the apprenticeship until they have the knowledge and skills to pass their final assessment.

Another critical role within MFRS is that of Community Safety Advisors. These staff work within the Prevention department and provide useful advice to members of the community on how to keep their homes and businesses safe from fire. They too are trained via the employer provider route.

“We are recruiting seven more apprentice advisors this spring, so look out for the adverts on the Be More site. Prevention is always better than cure and these important roles help people reduce the likelihood of the tragic loss of property and lives potentially that comes with a fire,” says Ashley.

As you would expect with an emergency service, the imperative to keep going through a pandemic is paramount. The adaptations made to the delivery of each apprenticeship has ensured that quality delivery has been maintained with minimal disruption, whilst also keeping everyone safe. The dedication of the Apprenticeship Team has provided apprentices with the continuity of quality provision that was much needed during the initial stages of their apprenticeship.

Ashley explains: “We adapted our training to make sure our apprentices keep on track. They are key workers within the Service and so we have adopted training strategies such as Microsoft Teams and online packages to make sure the training continues, albeit remotely when needed. Our apprentice firefighters have training delivered on station and have made excellent progress during the pandemic.”

In additional to carrying out their day-to-day duties, MFRS apprentices have taken on additional roles during the pandemic, volunteering to help deliver food and prescriptions to the most vulnerable members of our community. They have also supported North West Ambulance Service with fitting face masks and fundraising for local community projects.

Once qualified as an operational firefighter, many will choose to pursue specialist roles ranging from emergency driver to water rescue. Your career path is supported every step of the way, with training and development mapped out to help you reach your goals. Whilst the majority of training is carried out in-house, MFRS also works with accredited bodies including City & Guilds, CMI and the Fire Service College to ensure that instructors also continue to develop their skills. MFRS will always seek to be the best it can be in all areas.

For more information about apprenticeships and careers at Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, head to www.merseyfire.gov.uk or Search @MerseyFireCareers on Facebook and @MerseyFireJobs on Twitter.