25 years in the fire service: Never a dull day

Grahame Mitchell dreamed of becoming a firefighter since he was a child. He joined Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service in 1992 and has never had a dull day

Imagine doing the same job for a quarter of a century? Our Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Grahame Mitchell wouldn’t change his job for the world and never wanted to do anything else: “I started my working life as a heating plumbing engineer and completed a 5-year apprenticeship. I decided to follow a long-term dream to apply to be a firefighter and felt a little daunted at the selection process that included psychometric testing, practical aptitude and fitness and strength testing.

I passed each stage and was invited for a final interview, which was the first interview I ever had.  I started a 16-week residential training course at Didcot with 12 other colleagues and although we started as strangers we all finished as great friends. The Fire Service builds team work and instils excellent values and demand that you are the very best you can be. I found this a really rewarding environment to be in and learning something new every day became the norm. My First posting was to White Watch at Rewley Road in Oxford and this is where I was taught how to be a firefighter, and I clearly remember attending my first fire and being looked after by the whole watch."

Changing with the times

In the line of duty, Grahame has met many amazing people. “Not everyone can say that they have saved a life or that they still want to be in the same profession for this long.” And the job has changed over the years: “It’s about a lot more than responding to emergencies. It’s about a balance between community education, working hard at preventing a wide range of emergencies and still having the most professional response when things do go wrong. Our school education programme is very important because these are the citizens, the residents of the future”, he stated.

Over the last 25 years, Grahame has seen a huge societal change in that nearly all homes have working smoke alarms, Car design and safety systems are getting more common and we believe that in the future road traffic accidents will be a thing of the past with the increase in autonomous driving. Technology and equipment have also made the job easier and safer: “When I started we used to have to use very heavy and cumbersome equipment and relayed only on our senses to find our way through smoke filled buildings, we now have light weight breathing apparatus and thermal imaging technology so we can deal with fires even more efficiently.

 As I got promoted, I also learnt new skills. We work with people from all backgrounds with partners, agencies, charities, and politicians.” Many people do not know that we are a County Council Fire and Rescue Service and this really helps my work as I have direct access to all the departments that look after our county and its residents he explained. All our residents are safer due to the integrated nature of working together, and we now work even closer with the Police and Ambulance Service to reduce harm in our communities.

Think fast and solve problems

After 25 years, our Assistant Chief, has had the opportunity to help people in dreadful situations: “We changed our name to Fire and Rescue Service as Rescue work was becoming a large part of our day to day activity, one example is that we have a real skill in responding to floods and in recent years we have seen adverse weather start to impact on our county and its residents, flooding is equally as distressing as experiencing a fire he said”. We assist and can get people to safety but to see their homes destroyed and all that devastation, it stays with you. With natural disasters is always astonishing, the impact they can have, turning people’s lives upside down.”

As a parent, Grahame says like other colleagues with children that some incidents involving kids can be heart breaking: “But we look to solve problems, to help people and to support each other through challenging jobs”.

Is the job dangerous? Grahame said that if his own children wanted to join he would encourage them: “We are well trained, fully equipped and supported to do the job, so I wouldn’t be worried about danger. The most important thing is to have the right personality for this type of work”.

Grahame said that to be a firefighter you need to enjoy the fact that each day is different, that you never know what will happen and that there are always new things to learn. Not for pen pushers or those who are set in their ways or want an easy life, then? “You have to be resourceful, think fast and be motivated. If you want to make a difference, serve the community, then you should consider joining. I would like to pass on my knowledge and experience by welcoming new firefighters. I was lucky to have joined a service that had a fantastic reputation that we work hard to maintain. I am proud to work for Oxfordshire and Fire Service and deliver high quality service, through the decades and embrace and welcome changes”

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