Karen Rowley is the Communications Manager for Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service. On Firefighters’ Memorial Day, she explains what her role involves, this month’s recruitment campaign, and how the teams do amazing, positive things every day.
Careers in fire and rescue are just about putting out fires, right? Wrong! There are so many unseen roles, and so many other tasks for operational firefighters – to educate, protect and prevent fires. And for the ‘rescue’ part – water rescue, road traffic collisions, animals, height and confined spaces. The list is endless, if Norfolk needs a crew, they are there. Our watches will tell you they joined to save lives, whatever the circumstances.
I’d be lying if I said I actively sought a job in a Fire Service. But when I joined the communications team at Norfolk County Council more than five years ago, I was asked to take on PR and media for departments including Museums, Libraries and Fire & Rescue.
I enjoyed it all, but the Fire Service element was the first time since leaving journalism in 2006 that I got that buzz again, dealing with fast-paced news content and emerging situations.
My current role solely managing fire and rescue communications started in Sept 2019 and included reputation management, dealing with media and PR, marketing and public safety campaigns – essentially, I am telling the story of the service to different audiences. And remembering to keep all our partners and stakeholders up to speed and engaged too!
My remit extended to overhauling internal staff communications too, launching a newsletter and giving media training to staff, so they felt comfortable and confident in dealing with media at incidents.
Within six months, life would take a huge twist as we hit a global pandemic and needed daily messaging for staff and for the public – who viewed us a trusted source of information and areas like social media spiralled. So that really stepped up and crisis communications became the daily norm.
Thank goodness I had spent the months before that throwing myself into fire service life and getting to know the teams, so I knew who everyone was and what they did. Because I was now stuck at home as operational staff tried to do business as usual in the strangest of ways. Importantly, my supportive fire team, from trainee firefighter to chief fire officer, understood and valued my role – which is often half the battle in communications as a career.
Other teams found new ways to operate, including my wider NCC communications team and the friendships with some colleagues provided invaluable in times of isolation.
The fire service suspended cadets, cancelled non-urgent visits, stopped heading to schools and shelved staff awards. We shifted our brilliant face to face fire station open days to a virtual open day held online.
Our mission to make Norfolk safer for all extends beyond operational staff, everything we do has that end aim in mind. This became truer than ever during the pandemic as teams – both operational and office based – stepped forward for roles at vaccination centres, as ambulance drivers and staffing a temporary mortuary for Norfolk. It was a testing time but there remains a huge sense of pride for their efforts and achievements.
Careers in Fire & Rescue are for everyone, and we strive to be an inclusive and welcoming service, but recognise we need to better represent the communities we serve. We’re recruiting wholetime (full-time) firefighters this month (May 2022) and always need on-call firefighters across Norfolk too – who carry an alerter and combine the role with existing careers. Thirty-nine of our 42 fire stations rely on community minded people stepping forward and joining us – maybe you should consider it?! All the details of both, and more job opportunities, are on our website at www.norfolk.gov.uk/fire.
As well as that there are teams that underpin the work of Fire & Rescue- they’re not seen but they’re everyday heroes too! That includes our control room, supplies, fleet, tech services, finance, ICT, HR, procurement, hydrant team, community safety, youth development – who run cadets and our Prince‘s Trust Teams courses, business support and of course communications.
I might not be riding the fire engines, but every time I am on a station and an emergency call comes in, I get a real buzz from knowing that as a service, we’re on the way to help someone in their hour of need. There is no better feeling than that and I am immensely proud to be a part of it.
If you want to make a real difference to the people and the safety of Norfolk, I urge you to consider a career in Fire & Rescue.
No two days are the same and what you do really matters. And that’s exactly what I love about the job.