Unlike firefighters based permanently at a fire station, their on-call equivalents often have full-time jobs, meaning they have to respond to calls in their time off. One minute they might be making dinner at home, the next they can be fighting a multi-storey inferno. ‘When I go into work, I know what to expect,’ reveals Barry Taylor. ‘But when that pager goes off out of work... it's like a lottery; I have no idea what might happen.’
Barry is now in his eighth year as an on-call firefighter – and his sixth year as a Senior Art and Private Client Underwriter for Hiscox. At first glance, the two jobs are like night and day, but according to Barry, they’re more alike than you might think.
‘There's a real crossover between the two,’ he says. ‘A lot of the first properly organised fire brigades were actually paid for by insurance companies. And because I'm an Art and Private Client Underwriter, I now underwrite fire risk. There's an interesting synergy between the two occupations.’
Answering the call
On average, Barry's been called out twice a week, every week for the last eight years he’s been on call. Most of the time it's for something minor; ‘a false alarm, a kid locked in a car, someone stuck in a lift’. Sometimes, however, it's something significant: ‘Three years ago I was called to a huge fire at a historic National Trust property – 16 fire engines were involved; it was devastating,’ recalls Barry.
Incidents like these are rare; on some occasions entire months have passed without a single call. But there's a catch. During operating hours, on-call firefighters have to remain within five minutes of their local station, at all times. This can cause complications, especially when you have a wife and two young children. ‘It does affect your family life,’ says Barry. ‘I've had to run out of restaurants, I've had to jump off my roof while doing DIY. It's tough... You've really got to commit to it.’
Point in life
So why dedicate your leisure hours to the fire service? ‘We get to help people. We respond to fires, we do flood rescue, we do community work. We get to do lots of interesting things – things that some people would pay to do. It's like a really cool paid hobby, quite frankly!’
Barry became an on-call firefighter in his mid-30s after seeing an advertisement in his local newspaper. ‘I'd lived in Surrey all my life but didn't even know there was an on-call fire station nearby,’ he says. ‘They had an open evening, so I went down there and quite fancied it. I’d always regretted not doing any military service when I was younger, and I think I was at a point in my life where I felt I might never do anything like it, so I signed up. I feel lucky, you know; I love doing it and I love my day job.’
From firefighting to underwriting, Barry works night and day to help people – even if that means spending less time with his family. So, what happens when he sits back, relaxes and dares to take a bath? ‘I can almost guarantee, as soon as I stick my toe in the water, that pager's going off!’