Based in the North hub of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service’s Protection team, Katie Trott recently began her Level 4 Fire Safety Inspector apprenticeship with Xact Training. Here she explains how she found the role after a huge career change and how her apprenticeship journey is going so far.
What's your background and how did you get into the Fire Safety Inspection team?
“Before this role, I had a long career in the hospitality industry where I did everything from washing dishes to working in hotels and sales. After 20 years of working in hospitality I was looking for a complete change. I followed the whole Grenfell Tower enquiry closely and that’s when I became interested in fire safety and wanted to play my part in helping to protect people. My friends were very surprised at such a career change.”
What drew you to the Fire Safety Inspector role?
“After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I did lots of research into the fire service and the roles that were available. Before then, I only thought about the more operational side of the fire service.
For me this role is about so much more than just the enforcement side – it’s about trying to make places safer during every inspection/visit.
I kept checking the HIWFRS website for vacancies as I’d always quite liked the look of the Head Office at Eastleigh too. When I saw this post advertised, I immediately called to express my interest. The Station Manager was so friendly and explained that the Service would accept applications from candidates with no previous experience as full training to meet the qualifications would be provided. I attended the interview thinking they might at least offer me some advice about how to get into the fire service in the future, but to my surprise, they offered me the role.
It's so rare to find an opportunity like this where full training and a chance to gain qualifications is included.”
Can you tell me more about the apprenticeship?
“Before I started my apprenticeship in March this year, I’ve been out shadowing some of the other Fire Safety Inspectors.
The Level 4 Fire Safety Inspector apprenticeship with Xact Training is for a level 4 diploma. With a level 4 diploma, I’ll be able to audit more complex buildings including sleeping premises independently. My apprenticeship will run until November 2024.
The Service gives us adequate time to complete coursework as well as any admin. They give 20% (one day a week) for us to get this done. My manager and the whole team have been so supportive.
There’s lots of evidence gathering and shadowing required as part of the apprenticeship, so you get to use what they teach you in practice once you’ve learnt the theory and regulations behind it. My colleagues eased me into the shadowing process gradually. I started out taking notes during visits or taking photos too if needed.
I’ve recently started to do my own visits and take the lead more but then you still have an experienced colleague with you for support if required. It’s a very supportive process and everyone in the department is so friendly and helpful, so I always feel comfortable asking questions.”
Have you faced any challenges so far on your apprenticeship journey?
“It’s challenging keeping up with all the admin involved as you do have to keep an off-the-job learning record to log how many hours you’ve spent on coursework etc. This record must be submitted monthly along with any coursework.
You do have to stay organised to keep on top of everything, but you have the full support of your colleagues, and you are given time for this. Xact training are also great at answering any questions.
Also, because I’m given the time to complete my apprenticeship work during the working week (20%), it doesn’t interfere with my family time.”
What does a day in the life of a Fire Safety Inspector look like?
“We organise scheduled audits which includes anything off the risk-based inspection programme such as high-rise buildings in our area. We schedule those audits 5 weeks in advance and then do the visits, give feedback and complete any necessary paperwork as well as liaising with the Responsible Person (RP).
We check the fire safety arrangements for any local events are all in order. The North hub looks after the Basingstoke and Rushmoor area so that’s where my focus is. Part of my role also includes building relationships with local councils as we often have to give input on licence applications.
A large part of our role is dealing with Alleged Fire Risks (AFRs). When we receive these, they are triaged to check the urgency. An AFR might result in an urgent visit or prohibition, or it might just require a phone call to give some advice. We schedule audits for all AFRs but some require more urgent action than others.”
Have there been any challenges or highlights so far, that you'd like to share?
“Although some of the situations can be challenging and at times awkward (depending on the reason for the visit), on the whole people have been okay. I think if you go into a situation with a positive attitude and explain that you’re there to help and support them with their premises, they can be quite receptive. It’s about educating RPs to make their premises as safe as possible. One highlight of the role itself is that you get to visit and go behind the scenes of so many places that you wouldn’t normally get to see.”
What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to do an apprenticeship with HIWFRS?
“It’s been a very positive experience so far and I’ve felt really supported on the whole journey, so I’d recommend it as you will be given the time and support you need to complete the work. If you get an amazing opportunity like this to broaden your skills, take part in training and shadowing and achieve a qualification, I would say, just go for it!”