'I knew that my apprenticeship was going to be tough'

#InspiringApprentices: Chantelle Koutsou had always dreamed of being a firefighter

Chantelle Koutsou had always dreamt of becoming a firefighter, and made that a reality with an apprenticeship

My name is Chantelle Koutsou. I am 22 years old and live in Milton Keynes. I work for Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service, having joined the service in 2016 as an apprentice at the age of 20. I completed my apprenticeship in August 2018 and am now a competent firefighter working at Broughton fire station.

It has always been a dream of mine to be a firefighter, and I had been checking the Bucks website for nine months, waiting for the next recruitment drive. When it finally appeared, I knew I had to apply.


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On the job training

I knew that my apprenticeship was going to be tough: on-the-job training, learning all the skills of a firefighter, a number of tests and assessments along with completing my qualification. I understood there was a huge pressure to complete said tasks, as well as going to incidents and being prepared for those.

Although I got a massive amount of support, I had to be highly proactive to balance training and independent learning. I knew there could be a chance of attending incidents that could cause distress – however, my crew and others have always helped me in these hard times and given me lots of support.

When I started, my main objectives were to complete the apprenticeship within the two years and to learn to drive so that I would be taken on at the end of the apprenticeship. During that time, I also passed my IFE (Institution of Fire Engineers) level 2 on my way to becoming a competent firefighter.

No sitting around drinking tea

My job has definitely lived up to the expectation I had – there is no day-to-day routine, each day is different and I love it. We might have a full day of incidents or a day of no incidents at all. Lots of people think firefighters just sit around all day drinking tea and playing pool if they aren’t responding to incidents, which can be the case when we are working on Christmas Day, but we are constantly out training, improving ourselves, fitting smoke alarms, participating in charity events, doing site-specific risk assessments, working out in the gym and lots more.

I absolutely love my work. So much so I wouldn’t even call it work. It is a dream come true; I am excited to go to work. My crew is like a family to me – we eat together, spend most days and weekends together. I never get that "Monday feeling". I am very well supported and treated as equal even though I am of a minority group.

My favourite part of the job is being able to help those in need. You are rewarded by knowing that all of your hard work has paid off. Attending incidents and being on a blue-light run gets your adrenaline going. Knowing that you’ve made a difference to someone or something.

My family was extremely proud of me for doing this apprenticeship and career. My parents didn’t put any pressure on me going to university etc, they just wanted me to do something I was going to be happy in life doing. 

I am now studying for my IFE level 3 certificate, as I want to continue my development and improve my knowledge to help with my career. I hope I can continue to make Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire a safer place to live, travel and work, with the possibility to move up the ranks.

I would recommend an apprenticeship to everyone; they’re a great way to learn while earning some money as you go. You don’t have to feel pressured to go to university or college just because everyone around you is doing it. In my apprenticeship, I got lots of support and felt part of the crew from day one. There is lots of banter but with a family environment to help you settle in easier. I would always say to anyone: do what you want in life. Get a job where you wake up happy every day. It is a rewarding job where you can give back to your community.

Chantelle Koutsou completed an apprenticeship with Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service. She tells her story as part of the Tes #InspiringApprenticeship campaign

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