THE hunt is on to find new recruits ready and willing to tackle fires, rescue victims of traffic accidents and remove the odd cat from a tree. Hunts Post reporter ANDREW MCGILL joined Blue Watch to see if he has what it takes to succeed as a firefighter.

Firefighter McGill in action

THE hunt is on to find new recruits ready and willing to tackle fires, rescue victims of traffic accidents and remove the odd cat from a tree. Hunts Post reporter ANDREW MCGILL joined Blue Watch to see if he has what it takes to succeed as a firefighter.

THE morning shift with Blue Watch at Huntingdon fire station begins with a briefing from watch manager Rob Allport.

The team meeting is held to discuss any issues that might arise in the course of the day - anything from damaged equipment to likely incidents.

It looks like a calm start to the morning, but this is quickly shattered as members of the watch troop out to the gym and exercise yard for physical training.

Fortunately I am spared this, but I can already see that the physical side is a big part of this job. I'm also very aware that I am not going to be spared some exertion: my turn will come.

"Obviously we have no idea when a call will come in, so we have to be ready to go at any time" said Rob. "When not on a job we carry out training and drills at the station. Everyone has to maintain a standard of general fitness for their own safety as much as anything else."

While firefighting has traditionally been a male domain, more women are being encouraged to join the service and Huntingdon fire station has had a female firefighter for many years.

Probationary firefighter Mark Hodges was one of the last wave of recruits to come through the selection process. He said: "We don't think of team members in terms of male or female, white or non-white, we see everyone equally as a member of the crew."

New recruits are put through a series of tests for vertigo, claustrophobia and a series of other tasks relevant to the job.

As the day moves on, and with still no shouts coming in, it's my turn for action.

I'm kitted out in boots, trousers, donkey jacket and helmet - the firefighter's traditional look - and ordered to climb a ladder up to a third floor window of the yard's training tower.

"Don't look down" is the advice. I have no intention of doing that. However, I am very aware, as I step from the ladder onto the window ledge, of the 40ft drop below me.

After climbing back down I barely have time to catch my breath before I'm firing a jet hose at the same tower I've just climbed.

Mark, who is just three months away from becoming a fully-fledged firefighter, said: "I decided to join after I'd spent some time working in an office and I was looking for more of a challenge.

"It's very demanding work but it's incredibly rewarding and the sense of camaraderie in the ranks is incredible."

Next up for me is the rat-run - a caged maze of narrow metal - designed to simulate crawling through a burning building. I'm kitted up in breathing equipment and my mask quickly fogs up as my breathing gets heavier.

The air cylinder on my back makes it awkward to move and my clothes suddenly feel incredibly heavy as I manoeuvre through the tight cage.

Eventually I emerge, gasping, from the maze and just as I begin to recover, the light in the station yard glows red. The moment has arrived - we have a shout.

There is a real sense of urgency as we kit up and board the engine - crews have a target of two minutes between receiving a call and getting on the road.

Watch manager Rob informs us the incident is a stubble fire near Easton - a farmer's bonfire has spread to one of his fields. There are no crops in danger of being destroyed but we must reach the scene quickly to stop the fire spreading.

The drive from Huntingdon is an exhilarating race through the streets. There is a feeling of importance and power as vehicles make way for the engine to rumble past.

Once at the scene, the fire is quickly extinguished. I'm impressed by the level of co-ordination in the watch and the morale level.

On the way back to base, I'm exhilarated to have been involved in a real firefighting operation but secretly glad it hadn't been something more serious.

I say my farewells to the crew and head back to the office. I'm glad to be back in the relative safety of the newsroom but I can easily see why the firefighters of Blue Watch do it - the sense of having done a good deed and the bond with fellow crew-members makes for a thoroughly rewarding job.

INFORMATION: Anyone interested in joining the fire service can call the Recruitment Line on 0845 045 5220 before September 1, visit www.cambsfire.gov.uk or contact their local fire station