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Emergency services

Emergency services

The emergency services are organisations that work to ensure public and national safety by responding to all types of emergency situation.

Some agencies – such as HM Coastguard – exist solely to address particular types of emergency, while others deal with more common emergencies as part of their normal day-to-day responsibilities. Many agencies also engage in community awareness and prevention programmes to help the public avoid, detect and report potential emergency situations effectively.

The availability of emergency services depends on location – rural or urban – but there are three services that are almost universally acknowledged as being core to the provision of emergency care to the general public. Referred to as the ‘blue light’ services, in the UK they are generally summoned on the dedicated emergency telephone number 999. This number is reserved and restricted to receiving critical emergency calls. These services are:

  • the Police – providing community safety, and acting to reduce crime against persons and property
  • the Fire and Rescue Service – providing fire-fighters to deal with fire and rescue operations; may also deal with some secondary emergency service duties
  • the Ambulance Service – both NHS Ambulance Service Trusts and Private Ambulance Services (PAS), providing ambulances and staff to deal with medical emergencies.

Other emergency services can be provided by one of the above core services or by a separate government or private body, or by voluntary groups. These include:

  • the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA)
  • the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
  • mountain, cave and lowland search and rescue (SAR) teams (e.g. Mountain Rescue and the Cave Rescue Organisation).

Emergency services-related skills gained in the Services

Many of the general and specific skills and qualifications, and much of the experience, required to work in roles within the emergency services will already have been acquired by many people in the Services. Indeed, a number of such people are already working in some areas of SAR and other emergency activities. Also, the experience gained within combat operations by Services medical professionals is particularly relevant to the ambulance services.


Every year, many people leave the Armed Forces to join the Police. They enjoy working in teams, operating in a structured organisation and serving the community. There are, of course, many differences because the Police have an association, employees have a greater say in their employment and the more senior managers all start on the ‘shop floor’. It is also perfectly possible for a Constable to spend an entire career in that rank. There are also specialist Police in such areas as the MoD and nuclear establishments, while at the heart of every major Police station is the control room. Here, Police and support staff monitor and control Police activity using advanced ICT to direct officers in their tasks.



  • Physical and mental fitness
  • Powers of observation
  • The ability to write and handle numbers
  • Logical thought
  • Stamina
  • Common sense
  • Good judgement

If you think you would be suited to this sort of work you would be well advised to attend the relevant resettlement course because the right preparation will lead to a better performance during what many potential recruits find a demanding selection process.


According to the Fire Service website, the fact that you have been in the Forces will help in terms of discipline and the physical side of the job. However, those coming into fire-fighting from the Forces will have to start by filling out an application form and completing the tests like everyone else: there is no process for ex-Forces people to transfer straight across. Those currently serving in the Forces are more than welcome to submit an application to join the Fire and Rescue Service, but must be available to undertake any tests that will be required of them. Because these tests may be held on separate days, those posted overseas may find this difficult. In addition, if offered a contract of employment, you must be able to start your training course on the required day. Failure to do so will end your employment and your place will be given to someone who can. For these reasons, many people find it best to wait until they have left the Forces before making an application.

Recruiting is regional, with each force responsible for its own staffing. Potential Police officers begin the application process by choosing the force for which they would like to work (note that you can only apply to one force at a time). You fill in an application form – usually online via the website – which is sent to the force in question. After that, a three-step process begins.

Step 1: on receiving your application form, the force that you have applied to will check your eligibility and mark your responses to competency questions (if these are used by the force). If your application is successful, you will be invited to attend an assessment centre (step 2).
Step 2: if you pass the assessment centre, you will then take a fitness test.
Step 3: your references will be checked, and you’ll undergo background, security, medical and eyesight checks.

Some forces may choose to run additional assessment stages, such as a second interview.

The process can take anything between a few weeks and several months, depending on the force and the individual’s availability. Because each force is independent, they all select and train their officers slightly differently. However, everybody joins the Police as a probationer (learner) under training for two years. A Constable is then considered ready to take on the full range of duties, and can also specialise in a wide variety of roles carried out by a modern Police force.

Promotion is achieved through passing exams. The High Potential Development Scheme is managed by the College of Policing. To find out more, see It is a scheme for serving police officers that is designed to develop the most talented individuals to become the police leaders of the future.

Pay and benefits

The minimum age for joining is 18, with a pension after 30 years’ service, and there is a latest retirement age of 55 (60 for inspectors and above). Rates of pay vary by force, rising with each year of experience. Officers in some forces receive additional allowances to complement their salary. In addition, Police officers receive a wide range of benefits, including excellent pension plans, a fair and inclusive promotion policy, and flexible working hours.

So, if you become a police officer you are likely to be able to expect:

  • a flexible working schedule
  • paid overtime
  • a minimum of 23 days’ annual leave
  • fully paid sick leave.

The Fire and Rescue Service

Fire-fighters are called upon to tackle various emergency situations, where their problem-solving skills and initiative will play a vital role in resolving issues quickly and calmly. The work may vary from tackling fires and rescuing people from burning buildings to dealing with chemical spillages and road traffic collisions (RTCs). On top of this, a sensitive approach is required when dealing with members of the public, who may be distressed and confused. Today’s fire-fighters also work closely with the community to increase their level of awareness and so prevent incidents from occurring in the first place.

However, according to the Fire Service website – – becoming a fire-fighter in the UK Fire and Rescue Service is not easy. In fact many serving fire-fighters have spent a great deal of time applying and preparing themselves prior to gaining entry. So, those wishing to work in this sector must be prepared to work hard – and will also need patience when working through the recruitment process.

The process of joining the Fire and Rescue Service varies throughout the UK, but it is suggested that, first, you read the entire recruitment section of the aforementioned website carefully. Once you are sure that it is something you wish to do, you need to find out if and when your local Fire and Rescue Service is recruiting fire-fighters (this information can also be ascertained on the Fire Service website).

Entrants to the Fire service have to be aged over 18, should possess good communication skills, have good all-round fitness, and will need to pass written and practical tests. Each service is responsible for its own recruitment and career progression. No formal qualifications are required to become a fire-fighter, but you will need to pass a series of written and aptitude tests in order to proceed with any application. Any qualifications you bring to the service may help with future promotion, as this is based on merit, experience and training. Recruits attend initial training at a training centre and then join a station for operational duties. Further training follows, as well as in-service development leading to specialist training. After satisfactory completion of the two-year probationary period, recruits become fully qualified fire-fighters.

Ambulance Service

There are ten NHS Ambulance Service Trusts in England, a single national Ambulance Service in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and one on each of the islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Man. Each service has its own rules and entry requirements. The Private Ambulance Services (PAS) compete against the NHS Ambulance Services for contracts and/or work on subcontracts from them, to aid them in fulfilling their role to save lives and to meet their national, government-set response times.

Both NHS and PAS services are regulated by the Care Quality Commission, and monitored on a regular basis to ensure their provision is at a level specified and expected by the national regulations. These standards include clinical delivery, training, vehicle roadworthiness and cleanliness, and driving standards.

Ambulance crews can include a range of medical staff, such as emergency care assistants and paramedics. Crews are highly trained in all aspects of emergency care, from trauma injuries to cardiac arrests. An ambulance is equipped with a variety of emergency care equipment, such as heart defibrillators, oxygen, intravenous drips, spinal and traction splints, and a range of drugs.

Patients will always be taken to hospital when there is a medical need for this. However, paramedics now carry out more diagnostic tests and do basic procedures at the scene. Many crews also refer patients to social care services, and directly admit patients to specialist units such as major trauma centres or stroke units. Paramedics also administer a wide range of drugs to deal with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, allergic reactions, overdoses, and heart failure.

 Support roles in ambulance services include emergency medical dispatchers and managers. There is also a non-emergency role called Patient Transport Services, which ensures that patients can meet their outpatient appointments.

Applying for jobs

All NHS Ambulance Service Trusts in England and Wales recruit on an individual basis and advertise on the NHS Jobs website: Vacancies are also listed on the individual Ambulance Service Trust websites and at Jobcentre Plus. For Scottish jobs, see and for Northern Irish jobs see There is also a great deal of useful information to be found in the ‘Ambulance’ section of the NHS Careers website:

PAS jobs are advertised on their own websites, and in publications such as Ambulance Life and Ambulance UK – see and respectively. To find PAS in your area and unadvertised jobs, search the National Register of ambulance services on the Care Quality Commission’s website: There is currently high demand in the PAS sector for paramedics and ambulance technicians.

Training requirements

The university route to becoming a paramedic requires good academic achievement and a minimum of three years’ study. The College of Paramedics’ website at has full details. You will also find an up-to-date list of education providers here, and will need to carefully check each and every favoured university programme as provision can change from year to year. For ex-Service personnel (as with the nursing profession) there are no fast-track courses that take into account your existing knowledge and experience. Most paramedic science courses may give only a small amount of accreditation of prior learning (APL) in anatomy and physiology, and you will be expected to undertake all aspects of practice to show competence.

The new Associate Ambulance Practitioner (AAP) qualification, written in partnership with UK Ambulance Services, offers a level 4 Diploma giving candidates a recognised qualification that allows them to progress into higher education to gain paramedic qualifications. You can find full details of the AAP qualification at

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career as an ambulance driver, FutureQual’s levels 2 and 3 ‘blue light’ driving courses are recognised by all NHS Ambulance Services in the UK. They are also listed on the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF), which means you can use your funding towards them. Developed in partnership with the NHS Ambulance Service Driver Training Advisory Group (DTAG), the qualifications currently available are:

  • level 2 Award in Ambulance Driving
  • level 2 Certificate in Non-emergency Transport Services
  • level 3 Certificate in Emergency Response Ambulance Driving
  • level 4 Diploma in Emergency Response Ambulance Driving Instruction.

To find out more, visit

Most NHS ambulance trusts run their own training courses so, although using your ELC for emergency driving or ambulance technician courses will help if you go on to work for a private company, you will still need to undergo training with the NHS.

Rates of pay

As an approximate guide, NHS emergency ambulance personnel salaries range from £15,860 to £18,827 for an Emergency Care Assistant, £19,027 to £22,236 for Technicians, to £21,692 to £28,180 for Paramedics. An Emergency Medical Dispatcher earns £15,100 to £17,800. All roles attract an additional ‘unsociable hours’ allowance of up to 25% of salary, with London allowances as appropriate. Most managers rise through the ranks.

PAS match or exceed these rates of pay in order to attract staff. There are also good opportunities for overtime in providing medical cover at sports events, festivals, etc., because the NHS ambulance trusts are not allowed to provide such services.

HM Coastguard

HM Coastguard co-ordinates SAR at sea and on the coastline through a network of co-ordination centres, supported by 3,500 volunteer auxiliary coastguards, organised into response teams. Watch Officers have extensive relevant sea experience, although some training is provided. Academic qualifications and a medical are required, as is a valid UK driving licence for Group A–E vehicles. Coastguard Watch Assistants do not require any formal qualifications or previous experience, however a medical is also required. Recruitment is conducted centrally. Details of vacancies can be found at:

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)

RNLI crew members are volunteers, at least 17 years old, medically fit with excellent eyesight; they live within four minutes of the nearest lifeboat station and are prepared to respond 24/7. They do not need to have maritime experience (although it is an advantage) because training is provided, but they will have to pass a probationary period (usually one year). Crew members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but all will need to be team players, who enjoy hard physical work – the most important qualification is 100% commitment. To find out more, visit

Mountain, cave and lowland SAR teams

Over 60 teams operate in the UK, manned entirely by male and female volunteers, mostly aged between 30 and 50. The majority have good general mountaineering or caving experience and will attend specified training before becoming a full team member. Typical annual team running costs of between £15,000 and £70,000 are met through public subscription.