All Fired Up

All Fired Up

by Sasha Kanal

Learning all about a day in the life of a Sussex firefighter, Sasha Kanal speaks to new recruit Jonny Cusden.

Jonny Cusden joined West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service in September of 2016 and is the latest recruit at the area headquarters in Burgess Hill.

Jonny Cusden

Leaving behind a job in construction to pursue this new career path, he underwent a 5-month recruitment process and some tough competition to become a Wholetime Community Firefighter for West Sussex. “I was made redundant and a friend of mine suggested the Fire Service. I’d always been intrigued by this element of the emergency services, so when I heard that they were recruiting for the first time in 8 years, I jumped at the chance to give it a go,” explains Jonny.

Four thousand people applied initially and according to Jonny, this was narrowed down to 750 applicants, with a total of 12 people obtaining placements. It’s clear that the recruitment process is stringent because the job itself is so safety critical, therefore it’s imperative that the right people be chosen for the role. Amongst other things Jonny underwent a written exam with maths, a fitness and dexterity test, an equipment carry test, a ladder climb, a swimming trial, as well as a role-play related exam to ascertain his suitability for the job. “On passing all these, I then had a panel interview and gave a presentation on a civic related topic to senior officers,” he says. “In fact, there’s specific outline of PQAs (Personal Quality Attributes) needed to become a firefighter listed on,” Jonny explains. “From a commitment to diversity and integrity, to confidence, resilience and effective communication skills, these attributes are all in place to make sure people come into this service for the right reasons.”

After this part of the recruitment process, Jonny then attended a 14 week- long residential course and finally a consolidation of all this in a real fire situation at Moreton-in-Marsh, the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire.

So what does a day in the life of a Wholetime Community Firefighter look like?

“We work Monday to Friday 7am to 7pm on a day-crewing system,” says Jonny. “Our days are structured for routine. We start at 7am with pump and apparatus checks, full inventory on a fire engine and then we go upstairs to the mess and have our breakfast together, followed by any paperwork.” Thereafter the day may comprise of home re safety and school visits or premise risk assessments. Not forgetting any fire calls they may receive. Their daily work is made to fit around these emergency callouts.

“The good news is fire calls are down,” smiles Jonny. “We are proud of the Fire Service’s prevention work and education in this area. New build housing tends to have good electrics and consists of materials with better re retardant qualities. Plus the introduction of centralised alarm systems seem to play a part in this reduction.”

Road traffic collisions are a large part of the Fire and Rescue service’s callouts and in line with their community work, firefighters often go into sixth forms to talk about safe driving on the roads.

In fact community work is becoming an increasingly important part of a firefighter’s role. Says Jonny “I love this part of my job. It’s incredibly ful lling to be able to go somewhere like a school and impart knowledge that could save someone’s life.”

And what’s the best part about being a firefighter?

“Undoubtedly being with my colleagues,” he replies. “As a team we are all really close. We have to be to make our job work. It’s that camaraderie and team spirit that makes us function seamlessly and as a unit.”

And what would be his advice to any young person wanting to join the Fire and Rescue Service?

“You have to be willing to learn as well as understand the importance of hierarchy, rank and respect within a unit – this is here for a reason because of the nature of our job. It’s not a vocation you can be half-hearted about because you will be in some stressful and potentially traumatic situations. Luckily, we have access to a trauma aftercare team who can help us deal properly with anything upsetting we have witnessed,” he says.

“I absolutely love my job and can’t imagine another career, “ he continues. “There are so many amazing opportunities in the Fire Service and we’d welcome any young people who have questions about a career in it to come down and talk to us.”

Visit and follow the links to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service