Meet the accountants who fight fires

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Meet some professional accountants who are giving back to their communities as retained firefighters.

Firefighting may not be a job you’d ordinarily associate with accountancy, but there’s a large number of UK accountants who are currently working as retained firefighters – more so than you’d think. Somerset-based accountant Ellie Watts featured in the Daily Mirror four years ago when she enrolled as a retained firefighter. At just 20 years old at the time, she was the country’s youngest female firefighter.  

Retained firefighters or “on-call firefighters” are professionally-trained firefighters who respond to local emergency calls while in full-time employment. They hail from any industry and occupation, from retail to mechanical engineering and – of course – accountancy. A casual search on LinkedIn shows a large number of chartered accountants who also have “on-call” or “retained firefighter” in their employment history. So what’s the pull? 

Giving back 

For chartered accountant Phil Hutton, programme financial controller at Thames Water, it’s about doing something for the greater good and giving back to the community. Hutton decided to train as a firefighter after chatting to his local fire service, who were doing demonstrations at his daughter’s school fête.  

“Working in the private sector can sometimes leave you questioning what you’re doing for the greater good, and firefighting gives me a real purpose,” explains Hutton. “I also find at dinner parties that people are much more animated when I talk about firefighting than accounting, so that’s a bonus!” 

Hutton, who has been a retained firefighter for two and a half years, says both roles give him immense job satisfaction, albeit in different ways. “Being an accountant appeals to my business mind – commercial thinking, analytics and using my qualifications that I worked hard to achieve. Financially, I’m also better off than if firefighting were a full-time role; and that’s a consideration, too.”  

Hutton says his firefighter role has been more diverse than he ever expected. As well as attending emergency fire calls, he’s responded to road traffic accidents, and supported elderly people who have had to wait for a delayed ambulance.  

Hutton’s most memorable call-out was at a large fire in an Ocado warehouse in Andover. He had been one of the first on the scene, but because of the size and scale of the fire – which destroyed the entire distribution centre – there were several crews in attendance and he stayed there most of the night. 

If the idea of having a full-time accountancy role while working as a firefighter sounds exhausting, it is. Yet Hutton insists it’s never affected his day-to-day role because he’s on-call in the evenings and during weekends. But if a call-out like the one in Andover results in a particularly long and gruelling response, he survives on caffeine the next day to get him through. “Both roles work well together and give me something quite unique, so I feel lucky to have the best of both worlds,” he explains. 

Solving problems 

It’s a similar story for Andrei Viscu, an accountant and finance project analyst at the UK’s innovation network, Knowledge Transfer Network. Viscu became a retained firefighter in March 2019 after attending a “have-a-go-day” at his local fire station and has never looked back. Like Hutton, Viscu is on-call outside of working hours, so the two roles rarely overlap.  

“I like being both a financial professional and retained firefighter for the same reasons,” says Viscu. “Both roles rely on accuracy and allow me to use a methodical approach to solving problems.”  

Firefighting, says Viscu, brings an added element of job satisfaction to his working life. “No two call-outs are the same and there is always something new to learn from the more experienced crew members. The unpredictability and not knowing what to expect when the alarm goes off is very stirring.” 

Viscu still remembers a call-out he attended just four days after completing his Immediate Emergency Care course during his firefighter training. He had been initially sent out to help move a patient into an ambulance, but ended up assisting with CPR. “I helped deliver six shocks from the defibrillator to try to restart the heart before transferring the patient to hospital,” he recalls. “I found out later that the patient was back at home recovering a week later. Considering the overall UK survival rate for cardiac arrest outside of hospital is around 1 in 10, it felt extremely humbling to know that my input helped save a life.” 

Saving lives 

The thought of saving lives was what inspired accountant Josh Muir to train as a retained firefighter, too. Working as an accountant at the Cambridge Fire Service, Muir was no stranger to the firefighting world, but it was after speaking to a few friends who were already on-call firefighters that he decided to give it a go. And because he already works for the fire service, Muir can respond to calls during his working day. 

He says it was particularly challenging during the summer of 2018, as there had been a lot of field fires and he was on call-out most days. Times like this mean Muir has to be more organised than ever to ensure his main role is not affected by his retainer role. “If it means staying later a couple of nights a week then that has to happen,” he says. 

Muir says he thrives on the challenges the two roles bring – the sense of achievement he enjoys from both has given him a whole new perspective on life. “One minute I can be crunching my way through a spreadsheet and the next I can be out helping someone in need. You get to work in some great teams and gain valuable experiences in both the office and on the fire ground.” 

Responding to coronavirus 

Coronavirus (Covid-19), however, has brought changes to the roles of many firefighters. Hutton says face-to-face training has temporarily stopped and more time is spent on cleaning and disinfecting equipment. Crews are now required to wear PPE, especially on medical calls or if they’ve been called out to someone who has been self-isolating. 

Many crews are now assisting local ambulance services to help with increased demand, such as the team at Viscu’s fire station at Wheatley in Oxfordshire. “Firefighters join the service to serve their communities in any way they can,” says Viscu. “We’re relied on to solve emergencies, whether it’s saving lives, property or protecting the environment. We all want to make a difference in any way we can, that’s why it’s so rewarding.”   

“Working in the private sector can sometimes leave you questioning what you’re doing for the greater good, and firefighting gives me a real purpose. 

“It was particularly challenging during the summer of 2018, as there had been a lot of field fires and I was on call-out most days.” 

David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.

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