What types of jobs and employers are there in the emergency services?
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The range of job opportunities open to you in the emergency services is vast, from being a dog handler for the police to driving an ambulance or working as a firefighter. There are many opportunities for both school leavers and graduates in the emergency services and prospects for training and progression are good. Many roles require shift work, as emergencies can happen at any time.
Employment is usually on a local basis, so you’ll need to find out about job opportunities from the organisation that is responsible for delivering the emergency service that interests you in the area where you hope to work.
In recent years, there has been a trend towards recruiting graduates in some areas of the emergency services. So, for example, it has become increasingly common to study an approved course at university before starting work as a paramedic. There is now a nationwide fast track graduate route into careers with the police in addition to the graduate schemes run by some forces, and the London Fire Brigade recently introduced its first graduate entry scheme to fast-track graduates into station manager roles.
If you work for the ambulance service in England you are employed by an NHS ambulance service trust. There are currently ten of these. Other ambulance service employers in the UK are the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust.
Here are some examples of the roles on ambulance teams. You can find out more about the qualifications required from our advice on how to get into a career in the emergency services.
Paramedic – these are the senior healthcare professionals at an accident or medical emergency.
Emergency medical dispatcher – answering urgent calls made to the control centre, taking details and deciding on the appropriate response before dispatching as necessary, working under the direction of a control officer.
Emergency care assistant (ECA) – ECAs drive a range of ambulance trust vehicles and assist paramedics. They help move patients safely, observe patients’ vital signs and take information from carers or others at the scene.
There are more than 50 police forces in the UK. The majority cover specific regions but some have other functions, such as the British Transport Police. Recruitment is carried out by individual forces.
The main recruitment process, the Recruit Assessment Centre for police constables, is open to both school leavers and graduates. Graduates also have some other options, as they can apply to join the fast track programme that is only open to other applicants at a slightly later stage in their police careers. Graduates can also apply to individual forces’ graduate schemes, such as the Metropolitan Police’s Police Now graduate entry programme.
If you join as a police constable through the standard recruitment process, you spend the first two years as a student police officer or probationer. Once you successfully complete this probationary period you are confirmed in your role as a police constable and can apply for more specialist roles, such as dog handling. You can also apply for the High Potential Development Scheme (HPDS), an initiative that develops candidates who have the potential to become future police leaders, which is run by the College of Policing in partnership with Warwick Business School.
There are currently two programmes available within the HPDS: fast track (constable to inspector), which is for graduates, special constables or existing police staff, and direct entry (superintendent), which is aimed at career changers who have held senior roles in civilian life.
Graduates who apply successfully to the fast track programme should be able to progress from the rank of constable to sergeant in the first year, effectively compressing the standard two-year probation into one year. The next two years of the programme will take them to inspector level. Serving constables who join the fast track programme can also rise to the rank of inspector in two years.
Police ranks: constable, sergeant and inspector
Here’s an outline of the policing rank structure and what it means in terms of your role:
- Constable – the frontline of the criminal justice system. Under general supervision, but often working independently, constables enforce the law by gathering information, carrying out arrests, interviewing victims, witnesses and suspects, and searching individuals, property, premises and open areas.
- Sergeant – this is the first level of supervisory role. Responsible for day to day and technical supervision of investigations and law enforcement operations.
- Inspector – this is a middle management role. Inspectors supervise constables and sergeants and are responsible for controlling, planning, organising and authorising law enforcement work, and managing an assigned specialist function.
Inspectors can progress to senior management roles such as chief inspector, superintendent and chief superintendent.
Police specialisms: dog handling, CID, counter-terrorism and more
Once you have completed your probation period, you can apply to specialise. Not all forces offer all specialisms. Here are some examples of specialist roles:
- Police dog handler – work with dogs to search buildings and catch criminals. Dogs are often trained to find drugs or explosives.
- Traffic police – ensure road safety by enforcing traffic laws. Deal with road accidents.
- Criminal Investigation Department (CID) – about one in eight of all police officers are involved in detective work, investigating serious crimes.
- Firearms units – specialist teams trained in the use of firearms.
- Counter-terrorist command – counter-terrorism officers work at airports and seaports, protect politicians and public figures, and detect, investigate and prevent terrorist threats.
- Drugs squads – target drugs dealers and work with other officers and agencies to tackle drugs-related crime.
- Mounted branches – police horses and their riders help to police large crowds, for example at football matches and demonstrations.
- Fraud investigation units – investigate fraud and work with the Serious Fraud Office, the government department responsible for looking into large-scale offences.
- Air support units – helicopters and planes are used to relay pictures to colleagues responsible for policing events on the ground.
- Underwater search units – help to investigate crime and search for missing persons.
Most employment is with local fire brigades, and you join as a trainee firefighter. You can find out more about fire and rescue service recruitment from our advice on getting into working for the emergency services. When you have passed your probationary period, which can last for up to two years, you can progress to roles such as crew manager and watch manager, and then on to senior management roles within the station and the brigade.
Working as a firefighter isn’t just about dealing with emergency situations such as putting out fires, rescuing people from burning buildings and accident sites, and dealing with bomb alerts, chemical spills and floods. There is a community aspect to the work, too; firefighters go out and give presentations to schools and local groups and advise on fire safety.
You can also join the fire service as a retained firefighter. Retained firefighters are usually based in rural areas and must live and work close to their fire station. They have other occupations but must be able to drop what they are doing at short notice if called upon to attend an incident. The application process for becoming a retained firefighter is similar to the process for becoming a full-time firefighter.
Emergency planners devise protocols and procedures to plan for and protect against threats such as terrorist incidents, industrial accidents and severe weather. They can also be involved in delivering training and putting together plans for business continuity. For example, you could be employed in an emergency planning role by a public sector organisation such as a local authority or the National Health Service, or work for a consultancy offering services to a range of clients, including businesses as well as public sector organisations.
You could start your career as an assistant emergency planning officer with a local authority and progress to an emergency planning officer role before moving into senior management, shifting into private sector consultancy work or taking up an emergency planning role overseas.