As mentioned in my previous blogs, volunteering can be quite challenging, it takes many forms and is done for a variety of reasons. So far however I haven’t touched upon Career Break volunteers. People who may be taking time out as a result of bereavement, caring responsibilities, personal or family difficulties or to study or bring up a family. I recently had the opportunity to meet Rachael, one such volunteer, who is up for a challenge and donates 1 to 2 days per week volunteering for the Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS). Rachael does this because she is currently taking a break from employment to look after her 3 small children.

At NFRS her role (based at West Hartford HQ) is mostly office based and involves coordinating what are called ‘Safe and Wellbeing Visits’ (SWV). Referrals for this programme come from a variety of sources including Police, Fire Service, Care managers or concerned family and neighbours. Alternatively, people can also self-refer and concerns are generally in relation to vulnerable adults, such as those with dementia or mental health issues, or “people who put themselves at risk through their own behaviour, such as hoarding for example”. Basically, Rachael identifies who the occupier is and either rings them, using tact, diplomacy and her own personal skills to assess their needs, or she contacts the care manager to arrange for a team to go out and complete a home visit. Very often these visits are to give advice to the occupants or fit devices such as smoke alarms. Rachael herself has been out in the community assisting with these home visits and feels that they gave her some context and a greater understanding of the issues.

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Rachael chose this role not only because she had previous experience within a similar service, but because it fills a career gap, giving her the opportunity to gain experience whilst at the same time keeping her skills updated. She also feels it allows her to plan her volunteer days around her husband’s work schedule and her children’s activities. “I am able to drop the children off at school and return in time to pick them up.” Therefore, “If any unforeseen event happens, like the children get ill or my husband gets called out for work, then there is no urgent stress to arrange child care”

Rachael originally hails from New Zealand and after graduating from the University of Otago worked as a personnel administrator at the New Zealand Fire Service in the Wellington area (quite remarkably this region has a total of eight stations just in the one geographical area!) During this time Rachael gained an understanding of the roles involved and the organisational structure of an emergency service. Following this Rachael lived in Australia working for a recruitment agency in Melbourne and subsequently worked as a Nanny in Sydney, before settling down and starting her family.

In 2017 Rachael and her husband re-located to Northumberland, and after a while, with her children settled at school and some extra time on her hands, Rachael began to feel it was time to take on board another challenge. “I wanted to find a volunteering opportunity that would be flexible, rewarding and ideally give me the necessary skills and confidence for when the time comes to re-enter the workforce.” Not unlike many other parents who have had a career break to look after family, Rachael worried about the gap in her CV, the ever changing advances in technology and updating her skill set. Not surprisingly due to her previous experience within the New Zealand Fire Service, Rachael felt that our local Fire Service was the most obvious place to start. Therefore, she began looking for an opportunity in the most logical place she could think of, the NFRS website and Facebook page.

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Rachael explained that volunteers are very much support staff within the organisation and all volunteer roles are non-operational. Even though it’s not a guaranteed or a direct entry to becoming a Firefighter it can be a good way of getting a feel for the organisation before applying. The Fire Service currently has 16 regular volunteers who support with Community Safety programmes, home fire safety checks, West Hartford’s community boxing academy and the Young Firefighters Association (YFA) programme. There are also opportunities within the organisation for business administration apprenticeships and customer service roles.

During her time with NFRS Rachael has had many other experiences too, including helping the Education Coordinator with School visits including a Water Safety Education (SWSE) programme, that aims to educate youngsters about the dangers of playing in or around bodies of water. Rachael has (rather dramatically!) also acted as a casualty for the Learning and Development team during their Road Traffic Collision (RTC) training. Apparently, this scenario was a wake-up call for Rachael, highlighting the reality of road traffic accidents as it involved being cut out of a wrecked vehicle!!

firemen cutting out

Rachael feels that she has been made very welcome by her colleagues “I definitely feel valued and work with a great bunch of people who have made me feel part of the team from the start.” Indeed, she feels she has made new friends and her social life has expanded too having recently enjoyed a Xmas night out with all her colleagues! “I have gained confidence, learnt new skills and found a new sense of purpose as well as a professional identity, a real sense of who I am outside the home.” Indeed, “the team were really helpful when I was learning my role, they’re very supportive and appreciative of the time and effort I give. In return I try to give them as much notice as possible as to my availability so they can accommodate my shifts with their schedule.”

When asked what the greatest positives have been Rachael said “enabling vulnerable people to stay safe in their own homes, whilst maintaining their independence” and “being part of this process has been a huge privilege and better than any paid job I’ve had!”

The Fire and Rescue Service is currently advertising a new challenging volunteer role involving some digital and IT knowledge and some understanding of social media and administration. A Google ‘portal’ that has been set up that holds presentations for use when out at community venues or school visits. The role would therefore involve knowledge of how to access presentations and keep them up-to-date, make relevant changes and investigate or add any relevant pictures/videos as they become available. Anybody wishing to apply would need to be savvy with PowerPoint and Google (in particular Google slides) and be interested in fire prevention. If you are please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

All applicants should be aware that there is a need for DBS clearance for all roles. Therefore, Rachael asks that applicants are not put off by this and please be patient as NFRS will get back to you as quickly as they can.

If Rachael’s story has inspired you to volunteer more generally but you’re unsure how, please visit Northumberland CVA’s Volunteer Connect database http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/volunteers to start exploring all of our many other opportunities. Alternatively, if you are a volunteer and want to share your own volunteering adventures then please leave a comment below or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll get in touch with you for a chat.