A search for 20 new firefighters to serve Tyne and Wear is in its final stage, with new recruits set to take up their roles next year.
In recent months, almost 5,000 aspiring firefighters applied for jobs in Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) in their first recruitment drive in nearly a decade.
On September 10, members of the TWFRS authority heard the new application process gave better chances to a younger and more diverse pool than before.
Of the 4,520 candidates who completed registration, 26 remain.
This pool will be cut down to the final 20 subject to the results of medical checks.
Assistant chief officer at TWFRS, John Baines, speaking at the service’s headquarters in Sunderland, said creating a diverse workforce is a “challenge that we strive towards achieving”.
During a six-week recruitment campaign over 3,000 people applied from “all sectors of the community” following work from the service’s community safety teams, the meeting heard.
Additionally, a social media campaign reached over 90,000 views on social media platforms and helped generate a large amount of applications.
After an initial screening, candidates had to complete tests and questionnaires relating to behaviour, ‘situational judgement’ and numerical, verbal and mechanical reasoning – taking thousands of applicants down to just 200.
After further practical tests, this number was sliced to 130 for interviews – from which the final pool were chosen.
Coun Bruce Pickard, of North Tyneside Council, credited the “rigorous selection process” and asked if successful candidates could meet the authority in future to give feedback.
“Invite them to come after the first six months of the job and hear first hand what their experience was of the recruitment and selection process.”
Newcastle councillor, Tom Woodwark, also raised concerns about “changing the makeup” of the service in terms of diversity.
While the new recruits should be welcomed, he explained, service-wide changes “would not happen overnight” due to the small number new firefighters entering the service.
ACO John Baines added the service was committed to reflecting diversity and noted the recruitment campaign which included events with a focus on gender and Black and Minority Ethnic groups.
He also said that while TWFRS had received comments and letters about “setting the bar too high” in its selection process, it was important to choose the right candidates.
“We want the very best people in our authority.”
A total budget of £220,000 has been set aside to recruit and train the successful candidates – including £18,900 to use the Fire Service College’s online portal.
On October 29, new recruits will start their 14-week initial training and are expected to start their new roles from February 17, 2019.
The TWFRS authority consists of fire service bosses and councillors from five constituent councils of Tyne and Wear.
This includes Sunderland City Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council, Gateshead Council and Newcastle City Council.