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Hi all,

Applied for an On call firefighter week or so back, had an unexpected interview this evening. Left with more questions which I hope you can help with. I currently work full time as a window cleaner, so used to working at heights.

My 2 main questions are how do you maintain your 84 hours on top of a full time job. Are you constantly on edge, as nobody knows when a emergency will happen. Do you sleep lightly of an night when you are on call?

My other question is regarding pay. Having 2 wages will trigger the emergency tax. Is it feasible for me to leave my full time job and dedicate my time to my family and being on call? Is it possible to say I can offer my services at any given time during the day?

Thanks for reading and any replys I look forward to reading before I send out my revised hours of availability

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Hi @Jamesavfc82, I’m also an on call firefighter whilst on rest days so I’m only contracted 80 hours (that’s only on my 4 days). That means that the minute I book off call I have broken my contracted hours, however it isn’t policed and there is scope to sometimes do less than contracted, however if you are contracted 84 hours and only average 40 hours, I expect words will be had. 

Whilst on call I sometimes help a mate out with window cleaning however I stay on call as it’s in the local area. This is personal choice and if you are window cleaning out of the catchment area then it won’t be allowed anyway. 84 hours is a big commitment, as is any amount of hours due to the poor hourly rate for being on call, however if you’re at a busy station, a couple of shouts makes staying on call worth it. Obviously being busy can also bring issues, family etc..

84 hours a week on call also leaves you 84 hours a week off call, so still lots of time off. 

I personally enjoy being on call and I’m at a station where there is enough members to freely book on and off. I’ve seen people do 30+ years and love it, and seen people do a few months and not like it, however that is the case with almost any job. 

As for being on edge about the pager going off, that’s human nature. At first you will be nervous, after a few shouts, maybe even a lot of shouts, the nerves ease and it becomes normal, however there will still always be that adrenaline. You have to learn to live with the pager and not let it take over your life (don’t sit there all day waiting or dreading for it to go off).

If I was you I wouldn’t leave your full time job, you’ll end up ‘chasing the money’ and being really ticked off when you go out for an hour and miss a shout, which could potentially be an 8 hour/£100 shout. If your station is busy enough you may be able to live off just retained, I know a lot of brigades offer a lot of extra with regards to medical calls, CFS work etc. Find out what the other members of the station do and see if it’s possible. 

Personally for the tax, I have just split my tax codes. Hope this helps.

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Hi mate,

You’ll get used to being on call after a while. I slept lightly at first but you get used to it and eventually your pager just becomes another thing you have on you along with your wallet, phone etc. I enjoyed being on call. Maintaining your hours will depend on when you are required to be on call and whether you can be on call while you’re at work in your primary job or not.

There aren’t many on call stations that can provide enough of an income to replace a full time job. You’d have to be very busy and do a lot of extra hours which will more than likely be shared out between the firefighters to make it fair. I know firefighters that have relied too heavily on the extra hours and it never ends well as they are not guaranteed. 

If I were you I would find out when exactly you are expected to be on call (day times/weekends/nights etc) and work out when you will fit those hours in dependent on being on call at work or not, and go from there. 

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Thanks everyone for your advice. I should have asked these questions last night at the interview but felt thrown in and ill prepared.

I am contracted to finish at 2.30pm from my current window cleaning job, so if I was to say I am available from 4pm til 5am, during the week, would I get paid from 4pm or just from the time I have received a call? I can't seem to find anything online which can clarify this for me.

During the interview it was mentioned that they struggle for cover during the afternoons

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Hi James, many services you get a retaining fee meaning you’ll get paid all small amount to be on call, I think annually it would be around 2/3K a year not a lot I know. 

With the retained you make your money with call outs, also known as T&As (turn outs and attendances) so if you get a call out and get on the fire engine you get money for turning out an hourly rate. You also get a attendance if you don’t get on the truck and a disturbance fee which if I remember will be about 4quid I might be wrong it was a while since I was retained. You also make money on doing weekly training, doing community safety, open days, safe and well visit and other things we do. Also initial courses in your first year all adds up.

I was retained for 3 years at a relatively quiet station and id average about 6K a year which was a nice top up to my full time job. 
Being on-call is great I did enjoy it, although it is a massive commitment and you have to plan your weeks around being on call. Also yes the brigade do struggle for day cover as not a lot of employers like to release their staff to attend fire calls. So a lot of the time retained pumps are off the run through the day. So the brigade are desperate for day/ afternoon cover.  

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Which Brigade is it you’ve applied for? The Brigade I’m in has plus 120 hour contracts or minus 120 hour contracts. It’s a harsh system that I believe is getting reviewed but it means someone who is contacted 42 hours a week gets the exact same retainer fee as someone who provides 119 hours. 

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Ah, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the insight. Now I just need to gather some idea/juggle the weekend hours of availability to top up the requirement.

I applied for my local station in Telford, Shropshire.

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Pay wise, although not knowing your full circumstance I would say don't give up your primary employment to offer more hours on call.

I've seen other people do it and they have ended up losing their enjoyment for the job as it becomes more about the money. You may be taking other firefighters money for routines around the station if you're there most of the time where it would normally be shared around, and shouts wise you can have a couple of quiet weeks, book off for a few hours and sod's law you end up missing a couple of shouts and end up get the hump with it. 

in terms of your 84 Hours you've been asked to give, if you gave 4pm-5am during the week that's 65 hours banked leaving 19 over the weekend- for example covering Saturday 00:00 to 19:00 gives you Saturday night and all Sunday off call. Saying that, most services allow you to do one weekend on and one off so you could split 38 hours over Saturday and Sunday one weekend and be completely off the next weekend so it averages out. That way it helps maintain a balance between station and home life. 

Different brigades run their on call side of things very differently though, so it's worth going back into the station you're applying for on a drill night to ask the specifics. 

You do get used to your alerter, but at the start you're right you will be on edge and waiting for it to go off constantly! I have mine out of arms reach at night since a few years back had a shout in the early hours, was half asleep and thinking it was my alarm clock hit what I thought was the snooze button! Followed by a few minutes later an angry phone call asking where I was 🙈

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I have put down that I can do from 4pm til 5am Mon to Fri, Saturday is an iffy one as due to the nature of my job, we are reliant on the weather being clear all week to complete our rounds (Saturday is our substitute day) which makes things a bit awkward to get hours in, so I said available from 4pm til 11am Sunday

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I have to say I am finding this thread informative but frustrating.

I worked all my 32 in London, so only have a very limited experience of retained firefighting. We didn't have any but would somtimes cover over the border when they were unable to crew

What I dont get is all the hurdles, restrictions and rules that employers insist on albeit they are desperate for day cover.

Have any FRS relaxed commitment requirements to achieve better daytime coverage? I expect its all about money, but with so many areas of the UK being without cover regularly in the day, some bravery is surely required by management 

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A lad at my station provides 44 hours cover, Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm. This is a win win for 2 parties as it is so tough to get day cover nowadays and it does not effect his personal life at all as he is only on call when at work. On the flip side, he gets the same retainer fee as someone who provides 119 hours a week, meaning if you divide his retainer fee by how many hours he’s on call versus if you divide the retainer fee by 119 hours a week, he earns a lot more an hour for being on call. 

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Thats exactly my point.  These restrictive rules need to be relaxed and resources increased to beat this blight.

Maybe compensating businesses would help so they get a turnout and hourly fee too? Something has to shift as this cant go on.

I look after the fire safety of a really important industrial premises in a rural area. The local station only provides 62% coverage and most is out of hours. The 2nd and 3rd nearest stations also offer part time cover during the week.  It is likely that during the it will take 45 mins to get 2 wholetime pumps on scene for a BA attack to take place- if the weather is good! - much longer in rain or if those appliances are busy

This is in England - not some remote rural part of Scotland 😳

Not great for my employer, but even worse news for those living in homes nearby

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The main thing is the pay on call firefighters receive. It’s just not enough to support the commitment that is required. You’ll always get a core of people at a station that live and die in the same town and are perfectly happy spending 30 years on call as it fits in with their lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with this but there’s usually not enough of them to provide good enough availability.

You will also get a constant rotation of younger people/ less interested people who don’t realise what they’re signing up for until they’re a few years in, sacrificing social time and other commitments. I was at a busy station and took away 6 to £700 a month most of the time without any extra hours. But if I’d been at a quiet station taking maybe 2 to £300 a month for the same commitment I don’t think I’d have done it for as long as I did. The system relies on people who’s lives are not impacted too much, or from those who think it will lead to a wholetime role. More and more is constantly asked of the staff as well, a few hours here, a few hours there over and above what you’re contracted too and for nothing in return. It’s a broken system and still relies on good will. We even did an annual open day for free. Try getting a bunch of wholetimers to do an open day for free 😂

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☝️ yup. I’m wholetime in London and on-call in a rural brigade. The shouts we get at my on-call station are next to non-existent and I’m taking home most months around the £200 mark for covering an average of 55 hours. As you can probably imagine, I’m not planning on doing it for long. It also doesn’t help that the atmosphere within the watch is slightly toxic.

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1 hour ago, HoldFast said:

Try getting a bunch of wholetimers to do an open day for free 

it’s hard enough getting some to do it while being paid! 

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Its a very difficult question to answer fully. The experience changes vastly between stations and services. Different services offer different pay structures. The 2 main ones being a given "small" retainer for a given hour commitment and then turn out fee + disturbance fee + hourly rate. The other being a salary for a given hour commitment. But i'm pretty confident in saying that relying on it for your main job isn't really an option.  The number and type of calls vary vastly and it would probably be best to go back for an informal chat with some of the folk on station.

In terms of the "life" is like.  It works for some, it doesn't for others. You just need to try it and see. If you've not done anything similar before, it can be a bit overwhelming to start with, but that soon passes and it becomes a highly rewarding normal that very few ever get to experience.  But be clear with yourself that your family and your main job comes first. Regardless of what the service says, if you lose them, then you have probably lost everything.

Does your window cleaning job cover your station patch? would you employer be open to letting you respond assuming you can make up the time/jobs later? that would greatly help with the balance of hours.

The other thing to consider is also the training, in the first year this can be quite onerous, 2 weeks initial, 2 weeks BA plus other ancillary courses. Once these are out the way though its much reduced, your normal drill night plus a few weekend refreshers.

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On 19/08/2020 at 22:49, JamesAVFC82 said:

Having 2 wages will trigger the emergency tax.

Others have addressed the hours and the pay pretty well, so I am only going to chip in on this bit.  There is no such thing as emergency tax.  You will pay tax on your total earnings and benefits from all employments plus any self employed income and investment income less your personal allowance.

 HMRC will aim to tax you on your two PAYE jobs so that by the end of the tax year, you have paid the right amount of tax. They normally do a pretty good job after the first few months.  I have three PAYE employments including on-call and at the end of the year my tax is usually right to within £100.  That isn’t bad when you consider my on-call earnings can easily fluctuate by a couple of grand a year.

Usually they give your tax code for your personal allowance to your main job as long as that pays more than £12.5k a year and your on-call earnings get a tax code of BR which will see them taxed at the 20% basic rate.  If your total earnings are likely to be more than £50k then you may get a D0 tax code on your on-call earnings which will see them taxed at 40%. Either way, it should work out near right in most circumstances.

If you do end up overpaying tax, you will get it back after the end of the tax year.  The downsides are, you may need to fill in a self assessment tax form to get it and if you underpay tax, they will expect you to pay them.

On 21/08/2020 at 08:18, Messyshaw said:

Have any FRS relaxed commitment requirements to achieve better daytime coverage? I expect its all about money, but with so many areas of the UK being without cover regularly in the day, some bravery is surely required by management 

Yes, some have relaxed restrictions, many more are considering it.  Money is a big issue but not the only problem to be overcome.  You have the fairness issue alluded to by some others where the current Grey Book rules on the Retaining Fee mean someone on a 40 hour contract is entitled to the same minimum Retaining Fee as someone on a 119 hour contract.  You either risk those currently on 90 or 100 hours asking to reduce their hours as the Retaining Fee is the same or you band your contracts and pay above Grey Book minimum to those giving more than the lowest band of hours.  The first risks employing more people but getting less total cover.  The second is a lot more expensive, you could be adding millions to the service’s on-call budget at a time when money is tight.

Many on-call stations are tight for space.  Potentially doubling crew numbers by offering 40 or 60 hour contracts, added to additional (but essential) space requirements around reducing contamination, may mean many need extensions and expensive refurbishment.

You also have a potential issue with maintaining competence and getting experience.  If the station only does 100 calls a year and you only cover 40 hours a week then how do you ensure competence on maybe 12 calls a year by the time you account for leave, sickness, etc.

It isn’t an easy fix, I have been a participant in consultations and negotiations  over several suggested solutions at a local level and they all seem to hit the buffers.  Another attempt from my service appears imminent but I am not sure it will fair any better.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.... hats off to all of you who provide retained cover.  In my whole time FI role, I provide just one period of 24 hour on call cover a week from home and every fifth weekend.  The rest of the time I’m obviously in the office at work.  I don’t particularly like the feeling of being ‘at work’ when I’m at home with my family.  Not being able to completely switch off and relax, and being restricted on where I can go isn’t something I particularly enjoy.  As i say I only do this a few hours a week so you guys providing 40+ hours a week deserve medals 👏👏

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I have done on call for many years and run a busy on-call station which has its plus’s and minus’s. 

We review each set of hours on its own merit, but around 60 hours for most is an average - although some that provide day cover can be as low as 40.

We are slightly different in our county that your are paid for the hours you cover (plus T’s and A’s) so it is fair however if you do low cover you may only take two to three hundred a month, but it’s fair. You get paid the pro data rate for any extra at the end of the month. 

I think everything else is well covered in other replies - there is no magic answer but it’s an amazing job and if you enjoy it you’ll get lots out of it. 

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