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'All or nothing': becoming a firefighter

Zsolt Nagy always dreamed of becoming a firefighter. Previously a manager at a supermarket, he craved a career where he could help people, solve problems and feel that he belonged.

As his alarm went off early on a cold February morning in 2018 he jumped out of bed, showered, made breakfast and made sure he was feeling prepared and ready - there was no way he was taking any second chances.

For the first time in almost nine years, the chance to apply to become a wholetime firefighter at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service had arrived.

“This was probably the biggest project of my life,” said Zsolt. “It was only a registration, but for me it was all or nothing.”

Over 1200 people applied in just three hours.

The initial application was a simple expression of interest form to ensure eligibility, but what followed over the next three months was a detailed process involving online exams, fitness tests and finally an interview.

"I was prepared for every stage. My motto was how do you eat an elephant? Bit by bit. So that’s what I did, because if you look at the whole process in its entirety it’s too complicated, too long, too scary, it can put you off."

Each time Zsolt heard that he was successful in passing a stage he would use the recruitment website to read up on the next step.

"There were one or two weeks between stages so I had plenty of time to prepare my answers or get my fitness up. I was ready to show the service that I was the one they were looking for."

Knowing that competition was fierce pushed Zsolt further and in May 2018 he finally got the call he was waiting for - an invitation to train to become a wholetime firefighter.

But the hard work didn’t stop there. 14 weeks at training school saw Zsolt learn all the theoretical and practical skills needed to begin life as a firefighter, and when the day came to pass out from training school he was finally able to show off his new skills to his family.

"That was the moment when my parents actually believed it. They said, ‘I couldn’t believe you could jump this high, I couldn’t believe you could achieve this much, I couldn’t believe you could actually become a real firefighter.’ Everybody was so proud on the day."

Zsolt, who is originally from Hungary, now works at Grays Fire Station and describes station life as a challenging combination of attending incidents, continual training and spending time with what feels like another family.

"I trust my watch with my life and I’m sure I will be able to handle any situation if I’m with them. I don’t speak perfect English but I feel like a firefighter, not like a foreign citizen. I feel like I’m considered within the same group as everybody else and this makes me feel at home, so this is my new home now."

Applications for wholetime firefighters open at 6.30am on Tuesday 16 April and will stay open until 1200 people apply.

To find out more about the application process, including detailed information and dates for each stage visit: join.essex-fire.gov.uk/wholetime/how-to-join/

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