Staff story

What it's like volunteering with Devon County Council

Our firefighter James stood in a mask, with gloves and a hi-vis jacket on in front of a Devon County Council testing van.

James' story

My usual role with the Service is based at Bere Alston Fire Station, which is where I’ve been working since 2012. However, during the pandemic, I’ve volunteered to work as a mobile site supervisor for the Covid-19 community testing unit as part of our partnership work with Devon County Council (DCC).

The driving forces that made me want to volunteer were my desires to help the local community, and simultaneously develop new, transferrable skills. I was drawn to being a part of a multi-agency partnership that could work as one to help combat and prevent the spread of the virus.

Stepping into this new role wasn’t without its challenges. There was a lot of room to improve when we first started out. My knowledge from the Fire Service really helped me to assist putting many things in place. This included risk assessments and operational procedures in line with clinical governance and the training that was received, to inventory sheets and quick help guides. This helped us all work efficiently, consistently and easily. 

We also have to be adaptable and are always evolving, which is tricky. It’s all about fitting ourselves around when the public are most likely to be available, and knowing which locations will be busy and when, so we can be ready to support with tests.

However, despite the challenges there are so many great moments of accomplishment. Being there to provide people with the latest, correct information is a good feeling.

One situation I’m very proud of is when the partner of someone with dementia came to me for help because she recognised my firefighter uniform. She told me about an incident at her home, where her husband had set fire to an area of her living room.

In a sympathetic way, I asked her to tell me more about the incident and fire safety in her home. From this, I was able to then share with her the great work our Home Safety team carry out. I then provided her with all of the information she needed to be able to book a home safety visit.

I’ve learned a lot too. I now know how to liaise with different points of contact, how to speak to a diverse community and overcome hurdles such as language barriers. These skills are ones I can use in my role with the Service too.

Relaxation and downtime from a role like this – and any job – are key. I have a small holding with livestock that helps me with that. Being with my family outside is my favourite way to switch off.

My advice to anyone reading would be to really make sure you’re following the latest guidance and taking tests twice weekly. Also, be sure to look out for each other.

This partnership work has also meant that we can promote fire safety and home safety visits, whilst being face to face with the community and interacting with those we may not usually be able to reach. Working together and building relationships with numerous organisations can only be positive in my eyes.