London Fire Brigade

Karen Bell, Staff Officer

Meet Karen Bell, Staff officer to the Assistant Commissioner, Fire Stations. She trained to become a London firefighter when she was 42.

What is your role?

Staff Officer to Assistant Commissioner, Fire Stations

What do you think it would be like to be in the London Fire Brigade 150 years ago?

Although I would have qualified as a Control Officer, 150 years ago, I wouldn't have been allowed to join the London Fire Brigade as a firefighter.

I am a woman, I'm black, I became an operational firefighter at the age of 42, I’m only 5'4", I wear glasses and I do not have a navy background. All of this would have barred me from applying.

Interested in becoming a firefighter?

We are recruiting. To apply to be a London firefighter you need to be 17.5 years old, have a full driver's license and a permanent London address for the past 12 months.

If given the opportunity to be a firefighter 150 years ago, I genuinely believe that each fire attendance could have been my last.

The operational equipment and PPE gave very little protection against the fires. It must have been terrifying for the courageous and heroic firefighters of those days.

How does it feel to be a part of a 150 year old organisation?

I am absolutely thrilled to be here in the 150th year. I am proud to be a London Firefighter. I am proud to serve my community. I only wish I could be here for the 200th year celebrations.

What made you want to join the Brigade?

In 2009, at the age of 41, while working for the Department of Work and Pensions, I applied to be a firefighter, but I didn't make it.

I applied for the Control Officer role instead and started training in May 2009.

However, I was meant to be a firefighter. Encouraged to pursue my dreams by my colleagues, I applied again and was successful a year later in 2010.

In 2014 I became a Crew Manager.

When this opportunity to Staff the Assistant Commissioner for Fire Stations came along, earlier this year, I applied knowing that it would give me a comprehensive overview of the organisation I loved, I couldn't say no!

What do you do on a typical day?

Operationally, every day is a good day. My day revolves around assisting the Assistant Commissioner, hopefully making his day a little lighter.

What’s the best thing about the work you do?

Each day is a steep learning curve. There isn't the time to say 'I don't know how' or 'I can't', there is only time to find solution and get it done.

The knowledge that I have gained in such a short space of time is phenomenal. There isn't one particular thing that I can single out as being the best thing about my work, I'm just enjoying learning about everything to do with Fire Stations - the people, the buildings.

What is the most challenging thing about your work?

The most challenging thing about the work I do is not having enough hours in the day to complete all the work. 

Whenever I think I'm done there is always something else to do and often with really tight deadlines. 

I was once told that its good to work in the 'Stretch Zone' and to avoid the 'Panic Zone',  I think I spent my first month Staffing the AC in the 'Panic Zone'. 

From that exhausting experience I've learnt how to avoid that Panic Zone at all costs.


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