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Niamh Hedley Sellafield Fire

Apprentice Firefighter Niamh Hedley Talks us through a Typical Day at Sellafield

Published on: Friday 8th March 2019
Categorised under: Work, Learn , Apprentices, Energy, Nuclear, Sellafield Ltd

Why did you apply for the apprenticeship?

I’d always wanted to work in the emergency services and did consider being a paramedic too. I did my first Young Firefighter’s course aged 10! My dad is a firefighter here too, and I could see that it fitted what I wanted from a job – plenty of exercise, activity and variety.

After finishing my GCSEs I actually started a different apprenticeship at Lakes College in first line management and business admin. I thought I wanted to go down the project controls route, but it wasn’t really for me.

It was a big jump to decide to become a firefighter – some people see me as a ‘girly girl’ because I like to get dressed up for a night out and wouldn’t have dreamt I’d want to do this! But I applied to Gen2 in January 2018 and then did the aptitude tests and fitness tests which allowed me to start in September.

What do you like most about it?

I like that it’s so hands-on. In my previous apprenticeship it felt like there was a lot more time with the course tutors but here we’re learning so much more on the job.

We have to work as a team and all pull together otherwise we wouldn’t get the job done. This year, 12 apprentice firefighters were taken on here, which was a really big intake. We range from an 18-year-old female to a 39-year-old guy who’s had lots of experience in other jobs. Half of the intake were already Sellafield employees who’ve done other jobs on the site, such as electricians and operators.

What has been the best thing about it so far?

I loved doing the ladder training and working the pumps. It feels like almost every day we’re introduced to a new piece of equipment.

The other day it was something called the ‘hooligan tool’ which breaks through solid barriers such as doors. Another day it could be a thermal imaging camera.

There’s so much to learn. In my last apprenticeship I’d be keeping an eye on the clock waiting for the days to finish, but here they fly by.

Take us through a typical day

I get in at 7am, make a brew and then we’re in the gym for around an hour doing circuits to build up our cardio fitness. We then do drills for at least two hours on specific equipment and skills, like using the breathing apparatus or isolating electrical supplies.

We’ll have lunch around 11am and in the afternoon it’s normally desk-based work where we’re typing up the stuff we’ve learned from the drills and exercises, working through our assessments or practising written tests.

I plan to join the local retained fire station so on my days off I can get more real-time experience and build my skills. The reality of being at Sellafield is you may never see a real fire in 10 years, so if you want to put your training to use you’re better off being a firefighter in the community.

We’re doing more joint training with Cumbria Fire and Rescue and they would also attend any incident on the Sellafield site if needed.

What advice would you give to people considering an apprenticeship?

Have a really good look at what you’re going to be doing, what a typical day looks like and what the opportunities are going to be like for progression and development.

The 12-week firefighter course we went through was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I learned things I never thought I’d be doing: swift water rescue, ropes and working at height, all the chemistry behind hazardous materials and understanding how pumps work felt like doing physics!

There was an exam every week and I’d be coming home shattered and then having to revise.

But I’d say whatever you’re doing, do your research, learn as much as you can about what to expect and go into it with your eyes open.

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