Dial 999 for teacher fireman

29th November 2002 at 00:00
However hot things get at school, teacher Simon Burch usually faces greater challenges and earns more respect in his second job. Adi Bloom reports

When people ask Simon Burch what he does for a living, he does not tell them he is a teacher. "If I want maximum bang for the buck, I say I'm a firefighter," the 37-year-old says. "There's a healthy respect for putting out fires that there isn't for teaching."

Mr Burch is a trainee teacher at his local primary school in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire. But for the past three-and-a-half years he has also worked as a retained firefighter, answering emergency calls during evenings, weekends and in his spare time.

Spending his days in front of a classroom, and his weekends preparing lesson plans, Mr Burch is beginning to understand the demands of teaching. Yet, as he arrives in the classroom less than an hour after cutting a passenger free from the burning wreck of a car, it is clear which of his two jobs he thinks is the tougher.

"There's a lot of work involved in teaching, and I can understand why teachers feel stressed," he says. "But when you're cutting someone out of a car, and they're close to death and screaming - it's a different type of stress."

Firefighting, he says, is both physically and intellectually taxing: he is required to keep up-to-date with technological advances. This is one of many similarities between his day and night jobs: "You have to keep up-to-date with modern methods, reading new reports and bulletins," he said.

"And there are similarities when it comes to government intervention in what you do. Teachers feel that literacy and numeracy strategies limit their options. It's exactly the same when we get the latest technical bulletins from the Home Office, telling us how to approach the details of firefighting."

But he is clear that teaching offers better financial rewards. As a retained firefighter, Mr Burch is paid an annual fee of pound;1,500, together with pound;13 for each call-out, and an hourly fee of pound;5.80. This, he says, is poor recompense for the work the job demands.

It is for this reason, and to demonstrate support for his full-time colleagues, that Mr Burch has decided to join the firefighters' strike this week. "I would like to see a fully qualified firefighter earning as much as a teacher with the same level of experience. You don't get pay reviews often in the public sector, so let's get it right now, so at least the next generation will get their due.

"The Government can take the mick with the level of pay, because it (firefighting) is vocational, and we love what we do. But it's about getting value judgments right: valuing what we do, for both firefighters and teachers."

WOULD YOU RATHER BE A FIREFIGHTER?

Firefighters

Starting salary: pound;17,208

Average salary: pound;21,531

Average weekly hours: 42 Annual paid leave: 35 days

Working week: 2 days, 2 nights, 4 off

Qualifications required: none, but must pass numeracy and comprehension tests; stringent fitness requirement; eye-sight test

Other perks: retirement at 55 with pension 23 final salary; paid medical expenses; uniform "ladies like"Retained firefighters

Salary range: pound;4,000 - pound;8,000

Average salary: pound;4,500

Average weekly hours: 10-20

Annual paid leave: 20 days up to four years' service; 25 days thereafter

Working week: continuous availability

Qualifications required: same as full-time colleagues

Other perks: none

Teachers

Starting salary: pound;17,595

Average salary: pound;26,400

Average weekly hours: 56

Annual paid leave: 65 days

Working week: 5 days

Qualifications required: undergraduate degree and PGCE

Other perks: pension scheme

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