This week you have rare shot at getting one of the best jobs in the world. London Fire Brigade is recruiting firefighters and what better way to prepare your application than to follow me and my watch in a warts and all documentary about what life is really like Inside London Fire Brigade.
I've been a firefighter for 28 years now and so I had some reservations about allowing cameras to shadow me and the watch that I am responsible for. It was a fine balancing act. We wanted to show the real side of firefighting, our wide range of skills and the variety of jobs we go to every day from floods to car crashes. We also wanted to show the public a side they don't associate with firefighters, our efforts to protect the most vulnerable. This can be anything from from helping compulsive hoarders clear safe escape routes in their homes to installing smoke alarms above chairs spotted with burn marks where someone has repeatedly diced with death by falling asleep while smoking.
I also wanted to show what life in a fire station was actually like. Watches are like a second family and the documentary catches some of the mess table banter. That camaraderie is essential when dealing with traumatic incidents like the Croydon Tram crash and of course, Grenfell has cast a shadow over everything.
I am fortunate enough to be in charge of a watch that are very close knit, welcoming and strong. We are open and speak constantly. We have an 'open door, no jokes welcome' policy when it comes to dealing and coping with distressing incidents and any other problems that my firefighters wish to discuss with the watch. I am continually monitoring all members of my watch to see if there are changes in behaviour and will deal with this as soon as possible.
Following an incident as traumatic as Grenfell, much of the battle is in the repercussions during the aftermath. Mental health has been a huge topic in the past few years and has also been a valued subject in the Brigade, never more so than now. I have found the network of support offered by the Brigade as well as volunteers from our communities, overwhelming. This professional service has faced cuts recently but the quality of care from the counsellors that remain is fantastic. I would advise anyone that has faced a traumatic incident to take up the offer of a session. You stand to lose nothing but gain a lot. Remember, it's OK not to be OK.
Obviously not everyone feels they want to go down the counselling route and prefer instead to make sense of things themselves and in their own way. Everybody is different. I personally have spoken with a Brigade counsellor previously and find it helps me greatly.
Being an openly gay man in the London Fire Brigade has had it's challenges that's for sure, but I couldn't be prouder of how the Brigade encourages, accepts and supports the LGBT community. Obviously there is still some way to go, but the same could be said for racial and gender equality as well. We want the Brigade to reflect the community it serves and the establishment is on board and so I hope in time we will see the day when you can be anyone, from anywhere, with any background knowing that you will treated equally in the Brigade and in society as a whole.
I think more stations should be encouraged to take part should a second series be filmed and my only advice would be to remain professional as always, relax and try to enjoy the experience. It is after all, programs like this that may influence our future applicants and shape our Brigade.