A Purbeck fire station dating back to 1965 is getting a 21st Century makeover as it looks to attract a new generation of recruits.
Wareham has a long association with the fire service, dating back 250 years to when most of the town was destroyed by flames, but the current station in Worgret Road has been showing its age for a while and a major refit is now under way.
A new gym is one element of the fire station refurbishment at Wareham
New gym and training room for the station
A new communications room, muster room, gym, training room, offices and kitchen are being built during February and March 2023, as well as a new office for station commander Steve Nicol and outdoor storage areas to give more space in the main building.
It will allow the Purbeck Safe and Well team to have their own base in Wareham. This is a free service designed to keep people safe in their own homes by offering a health check-up for homes, advising on fire safety, alarms and even handing out winter warmer packs to vulnerable people.
And now the station has launched a recruitment drive for on-call firefighters to boost numbers and give better coverage and faster response times out of Wareham.
Major works on the fire station are expected to last until spring 2023
“A bit like a building site at the moment”
Wareham firefighter Paul Hardy Brown says that not only is the job perfect for people who want to give something back to the community, but as paid employment that fits around your own lifestyle, it is as close to a perfect part-time job as possible.
“The station was built in 1965 and now they want to bring it bang up to date, make it easier for firefighters to work in the station, adding offices upstairs, a lecture room so that we can do our training, a new kitchen and better facilities all round, really.
“There are loads of new improvements going on and it will be really exciting for us to have an upgraded station. The fire station is a bit like a building site at the moment and there are still a few weeks to go, but it will be so good to have it finished.
“Many areas were previously for storage, so we will get more space. It will be an interesting station, brought up to modern standards and much more comfortable for our staff.”
The fire station’s muster room was narrow with limited access
The major refit will make the station easier and more comfortable to use
Plenty of skips are going to be needed…
A chance to dispel myths over cup of tea
Two-thirds of all firefighters in Dorset, work on an on-call basis, and with working from home in the wake of Covid restrictions now almost the norm, it is hoped that more people will be able to sign up as a part-time firefighter alongside their full-time role.
Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue is committed to putting equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of the service and welcomes applications from women, black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and the LGBTQ+ community.
Wareham station has been sending out leaflets into the town hoping to get a good response for new on-call staff, and there’s an open invitation for anyone interested to visit the station for a cup of tea, a cake, and a chat about how they can help the local community.
Anyone interested is asked to contact Wareham station through their social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok and make an appointment.
One of the most important aspects of a face to face chat is a chance to dispel some of the myths about the job, which is suited to ordinary people of all ages and not just the superfit.
Full training will be given to candidates in various live fire situations
Training to use water and foam hoses are also part of the skills course
“I’m dyslexic and asthmatic but still got the job”
“I think we have struggled in the past to get on-call firefighters because people think they need to be a superhero to do the job, but we all have our own skills which people bring from their everyday jobs and we work together as a team.
“You need to be over 18 and have basic qualifications, but I am dyslexic, have asthma and left school with no qualifications and was still taken on, so it is really very inclusive. If someone wants to be a firefighter and has the mindset to do it, people in the fire service will help.
“Fitness is a really important part of this job as our bodies go under such stresses and strains, the kit itself is heavy, never mind having to wear breathing apparatus over the top of it and then having to go into a fire and pulling hose reel after you.
“You have to be at a reasonable fitness level, but we have programmes here to help people achieve that, which have been very successful.
“Once you are at the required fitness level, as long as you carry on doing exercises you should be fit and healthy for life, which is partly where our new gym will come into its own.”
One of the most basic skills is being comfortable with working up a ladder
Hazmat training in ‘jellybaby suits’ is part of a breathing apparatus course
Casualty care with life support skills
Aside from a basic level of fitness, the main criteria is to be able to be on call for a minimum for 40 hours a week which firefighters can fit around their lives, and to live close enough to the station – within about a five-minute journey – to respond quickly to a call out.
Training will be given to candidates which involves learning skills on ten days across two consecutive weeks in how to operate pumps and work safely at heights before more specialist training is given.
That includes casualty care with basic life support skills, trauma care and training to deal with common medical conditions, a road traffic collision course learning how get people out of vehicles, and how to deal with live fires.
Trainees need to be able to go up a ladder and take their hands off it to work at height, using a leglock technique which keeps them stable on the ladder itself.
They will also learn to use a breathing apparatus set and go through a maze, to gain skills that are crucial at house fires, vehicle fires or dealing with hazardous materials.
Call outs become more frequent in summer with woodland and heath fires
All too familiar scenes when blazes are sparked by careless visitors
Gorse in flames as another heathland fire has to be brought under control
“It’s surprising how much you can earn”
“We get people from all walks of life apply to join us. The good thing with this job is that not only do you get new skills and get to help the community, you do get paid a retainer to be on call and also get paid extra per hour when you go out on a call.
“It’s a really good part-time job and people will use the extra money to go away on nice holidays or buy a car – it’s surprising how much money you can earn, especially in summer when we get called out a lot.
“Wareham has 12 firefighters, but we could take up to around 20. Ideally we would like to have a crew for the first fire engine away and a crew for the UniMog offroad vehicle, but we’d really like to have more people on both and also be able to crew the second engine.
“To have the whole station manned 24/7 would be ideal and allow us to respond quicker. If you are looking to work in your local community, are active and want a work life balance, the fire service is well worth considering.”
Wareham’s fire crews have also said they would be delighted to attend town fetes or community events to show off their fire engines in action – just make contact through the Facebook page.
Another call out for the station crew
The Great Fire of Wareham
Wareham’s unique role in the fire service goes back to a hot summer afternoon on Sunday 25th July 1762, when a servant at the Bull’s Head Inn tipped hot ashes onto a pile of rubbish and started a blaze which tore through the town.
The town was largely timber framed medieval thatched houses, and firefighting was limited to buckets of water or using large hooks to drag the thatch from the roofs of the buildings and much of the fire was left to burn itself out.
By the evening more than 140 buildings were destroyed in the Great Fire of Wareham – about two-thirds of the town – although miraculously nobody was killed.
Ready for responders to leap into action again
King George III paid £500 to help rebuild
St Martin’s church was used as a temporary refuge for up to a year for people who had lost their homes. Swanage and other towns sent carts of food to help those who were homeless.
After the fire, a public meeting was held, and an act of Parliament was passed to rebuild the town. A national appeal raised £7,400, including £500 from King George III. and a ban was placed on building any new thatched homes.
It was also agreed that all new properties should have fire insurance and that this insurance company should provide a fire engine for Wareham.
- Anyone who’s interested in becoming an on-call firefighter at Wareham may get in touch via the fire station’s Facebook page