Savvy salesman swaps flogging trainers for tackling fires

A savvy salesman who swapped flogging trainers for tackling fires has urged others to follow their dreams – and try a career as a firefighter.

Firefighter Paul O’Neil spent over 20 years in the retail industry, working for some of the largest companies in the world and dealing with the general public.

When the pandemic hit and all the shops closed, Paul spent his days taking part in virtual learning and inspirational talks from some of the most famous faces.

But when the world opened back up, Paul looked around at his career and decided it was time for something new.

The 40-year-old saw that Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) were recruiting and had never considered it as a career.

He was aged in his late 30s, had limited experience of the Service and was concerned that it was too late in life to try something so different.

But Paul decided that if it wasn’t going to be now, he was never going to take the chance, and submitted an application.

The father-of-two says he got a shock to the system when it came to his first familiarisation day before the start of the course.

The course was going to be so much more challenging than he thought and if it wasn’t for his wife Helen pushing him to keep going he says he may have given up.

Paul ended up thriving on the course, making lifelong friends and he began his first shift as a firefighter at Newcastle Community Fire Station on Boxing Day.

Now, he has called on others who may have never considered the career to think twice – saying it’s never too late to give it a go.

Paul said “You’ve got to really want it to do this job, it’s going to be tough not just on the training course, but on station everyday where you are working hard to push yourself.

“When I went back to retail after the pandemic, I really struggled. I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore, the work life balance wasn’t what I wanted and I was clock watching on each shift.

“I decided that I wanted to become a firefighter and that was it I was going to go for it no matter what.

“Helping people is one of the main reasons I wanted to join this job, so for me to help someone every single day no matter how big or small it’s a great feeling and exactly what I wanted from a career.”

And today (Friday) one of TWFRS most senior firefighter has praised Paul for his determined attitude and adaptability when faced with adversity.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Lynsey McVay said “There is no typical background for a firefighter, Paul brings a wealth of experience working with the public so he knows how to talk and interact with people.

“Community engagement is a large part of what our firefighters do, they are interacting with the public all day every day.

“Knowing that Paul kept going and pushed himself further than before to achieve his dreams is inspiring and is exactly what we want from our firefighters.

“You never know what this job is going to throw at you, you’ve got to be able to get up and get on with the role no matter what’s going on around you.”

TWFRS are currently recruiting for whole-time firefighters on their website and are encouraging people to apply.

They want applicants from all walks of life and are encouraging anyone with compassion, empathy and adaptability to consider an application.

You have until 31st January at 23:59pm to get your application in via their website.