RAF firefighters and skills for life

RAF firefighters study for apprenticeships

22 May 2012

RAF firefighters have a specific skillset. Broadsheet spent the day at RAF Brize Norton to see how City & Guilds is opening new doors for them.

With more than 9500 UK Service personnel deployed in Afghanistan, the need for a reliable transport hub to move troops and equipment across the globe is at its greatest since the Second World War. RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire is at the centre of all international troop movements for UK forces, and it would be inoperable without the RAF Fire & Rescue service.

The 84 men and women of Brize Norton’s firefighting wing are on hand around the clock to provide rapid response for air crashes and domestic fires. They take their skills to operational theatres worldwide; an integral feature of the armed forces in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.


Lifesaving skills

Daily life for an RAF firefighter consists of constant training to ensure crews are always ready to save lives. In addition to this training, the crews also have the chance to study for an apprenticeship in Aviation Operations, which is offered by a partnership between Sector Skills Council, GoSkills and City & Guilds, and is mapped to the RAF training that the firefighters undertake.

Talking to the members of the Brize Norton crew, it’s clear the qualification is well received.

Flight Sergeant Lee Goupillot, second-in-command of Brize Norton’s firefighting unit, joined the RAF in 1989. He believes that a change in attitude towards qualifying servicemen and women has helped boost job satisfaction.

‘Getting recognised in the form of qualifications is the best thing that’s happened over the past couple of years. When I signed up, we got nothing. The mentality was, “If we give people qualifications, they’ll leave”. But it’s had the opposite effect – the guys and girls love that they’re getting qualifications for doing something they enjoy.’


Life on base

The life of an RAF firefighter is as varied as it is challenging. During operations in Afghanistan, the firefighters are often at the main operating base, Camp Bastion. Here, crews provide crash fire support for the variety of attack and transport aircraft operating out of the base, as well as performing domestic firefighting duties and flying out to recover casualties from downed aircraft.

The varied skills that the firefighters learn during their careers give them support for an unclear future, as they acquire recognised and transferable qualifications. Proposed defence budget cuts may lower the number of personnel serving in the UK Armed Forces, but the quality of training given to the men and women of the RAF Fire and Rescue Services ensures that a door to future employment will be kept open.


Senior aircraft woman Teresa Lewis

‘I’ve been a firefighter for three years, and I used to be an army driver,’ says Teresa. ‘Having already left the forces to try and work in the civilian world, I’ve realised you need to get recognised qualifications under your belt.’

Teresa is one of 15 female firefighters in the RAF, all of whom are trained to the same standards as their male counterparts. ‘The most challenging situation I’ve been in so far was in Afghanistan,’ recalls Teresa, ‘when a hotel had collapsed in Lashkar Gah and we had to dig casualties out of the ruins.’


Senior aircraftman Antoni Flammia

Since joining the RAF in January 2009, 22-year-old Antoni has been entered for the GoSkills Passenger Transport Aviation Apprentice Award in recognition of his excellence in training.

His commitment to the training stems from a love of what he does. Antoni explains, ‘It’s so exciting – you turn up to work and don’t know what to expect. You’re on edge the whole time. As soon as the alarms go off, your training kicks in and you go for it. It’s a blur, a real rush.’




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