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Emergency Services

Emergency Services


13 Sep, 2022

If you are looking to continue in public service post-Forces, a career in the UK’s emergency services could well be for you. Police, Ambulance, Fire and Rescue, Coastguard …? You are highly likely to have exactly the skills and aptitudes that make you well equipped to say ‘yes’ to 999!

What are the 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 firefighters 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).

Transferable skills

Service people are likely to have many of the general and specific skills and qualifications, and much of the experience, required to work in roles within the emergency services. Some will already be working in areas like SAR or other emergency activities. In addition, the experience gained within combat operations by Services medical professionals is particularly relevant to the Ambulance Service.


While the government has already begun to deliver on its pledge to put 20,000 additional officers on the streets of the UK by 2023, there is still some way to go, which can only be good news for those leaving the Armed Forces and seeking to join them. There are many similarities between those who thrive in a Services environment and the UK Police Force: both sets of people enjoy working in teams, operating in a structured organisation and serving the community. There are, of course, many differences too, because the Police have an association, employees have a greater say in their employment and more senior managers 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 areas such 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.

Routes into policing

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). One of the best ways to see the jobs and opportunities available in your preferred area is to look at the individual forces’ websites. Here you can search and apply for vacancies and opportunities. Click here for a list of UK Police forces and their contact details. Vacancies are also advertised on websites such as All Police Jobs and you can find full information about recruitment, assessment, training and careers on the College of Policing website.

  • 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 from a few weeks to several months, depending on the force and your 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, after which a Constable is considered ready to take on the full range of duties, and can also specialise in the wide variety of roles carried out by a modern Police force.

You can find full information about recruitment, assessment, training and careers on the College of Policing’s website

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 salaries. 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 work schedule
  • paid overtime
  • a minimum of 23 days’ annual leave
  • fully paid sick leave.


  • 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 firefighting 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.


The Blue Light Card provides Emergency Services, NHS and Armed Forces personnel with discounts both online and in store. There are hundreds of online discounts on offer, and the card can also be used on the high street in order to obtain discounts on shopping, eating out and so on. Each Blue Light Card is personalised for the member, with their name, card number and expiry date. There’s also a free-to-use app to make saving even easier.

For full details, visit


If you’re thinking of applying for a role in any of the services described in this feature, having a first aid course of some kind under your belt can only enhance your employability. Of course, once in employment you’ll have to undertake further job-specific training, dependent on your role, but basic first aid training is an excellent starting point, and if you can already boast a qualification or two it’s likely to stand you in good stead with prospective employers.

Many organisations offer first aid courses for a host of different situations and requirements. These include First Aid at Work, Emergency First Aid at Work, Appointed Person, Defibrillator and CPR, and Professional Drivers First Aid. Courses are available throughout the UK. Click here to find a course near you, or contact your local branch of the Red Cross or St John Ambulance.

Fire and Rescue Service 

Firefighters 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 firefighters 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 firefighter in the UK Fire and Rescue Service is not easy. In fact many serving firefighters have spent a great deal of time applying and preparing themselves prior to gaining entry. So, if you’d like to move in to this sector you must be prepared to work hard – and you’ll also need patience when working through the recruitment process.

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

Entrants to the Fire Service have to be aged 18-plus, 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 firefighter, 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 firefighters.

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 the Isle of Man. Each service has its own rules and entry requirements. Private ambulance services (PASs) compete against the NHS Ambulance Service 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 get to 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, click here and for Northern Irish jobs here There is also a great deal of useful information to be found in the ‘Ambulance service team’ section of the NHS Careers website

PAS jobs are advertised on their own websites, and in publications such as Ambulance Life and Ambulance UK  To find PASs in your area and unadvertised jobs, search the ‘Ambulances’ section of the Care Quality Commission 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 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 university programme as provision can change from year to year. As with the nursing profession, there are no fast-track courses for ex-Service personnel that take into account your existing knowledge and experience. Most paramedic science courses may accept 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 level 4 Diploma for Associate Ambulance Practitioners (AAP) is nationally recognised by the NHS Ambulance Trusts and PAS providers, and has been designed with a focus on the key skills and knowledge for the learner wanting to qualify as an associate ambulance practitioner, giving candidates a recognised qualification that allows them to progress into higher education to gain paramedic qualifications. Click here for full details of the AAP qualification.

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career as an ambulance driver, FutureQuals’ level 2 and 3 ‘blue light’ driving courses are recognised by all NHS Ambulance Services in the UK, and you can use your ELC funding towards them. Developed in partnership with the NHS Ambulance Service Driver Training Advisory Group (DTAG), the qualifications currently available are:

  • level 3 Award in Patient Care Services: Ambulance Driving
  • level 3 Certificate in Emergency Response Ambulance Driving
  • level 3 Certificate in Emergency Response Ambulance Driving (RQF)
  • level 4 Diploma in Emergency Response Ambulance Driving Instruction.

Click here to find out more.

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.

There’s a range of apprenticeships available in this sector, covering roles ranging from ambulance technicians and firefighters to paramedics and police. Use your favourite search engine to find out more, or click here to browse options near you.

HM Coastguard

HM Coastguard co-ordinates SAR at sea and on the coastline through a network of coordination centres, supported by 3,500 volunteer auxiliary coastguards, organised into response teams. Watch Officers will 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. Click here to find out more. Details of vacancies can be found via the Civil Service job search webpage Here there is a searchable form and you can select ‘Maritime and Coastguard Agency’ from the ‘Organisation’ drop-down menu.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)

RNLI crew members are volunteers who must be at least 17 years old, medically fit and with excellent eyesight. They should live within four minutes of their nearest lifeboat station and must be 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. Click here to find out more.

Mountain, cave and lowland SAR teams

More than 60 teams operate in the UK, manned entirely by volunteers, mostly aged 30–50. The majority have good general mountaineering or caving experience and will attend relevant training before becoming a full team member. Typical annual team running costs can range from anywhere between £15,000 and £70,000, and are met through public subscription.

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website