999 Careers

Forget the nine-to-five; the camaraderie, excitement and rushof Military life has a very real equivalent in the UKs Emergency Services. 


John Donoghue joined the Royal Navy after school. Six years later, he transferred to the British Army, rising up the ranks to become a captain. However, when the Cold War began to thaw, he left to join an international security organization — admittedly, that turned out to be more about budgets and spreadsheets than car chases and beautiful ladies between the bed sheets.

So, in the end, he “gave up the company car, expense account and keys to the executive toilets,” and joined the Police. Still a serving police officer today, so many “funny, interesting and bizarre” things happened to him on duty that he felt obliged to write them down. The result has been two (so far) best-selling books: Police, Crime & 999, and its sequel Police, Lies & Alibis.

While it’s relatively unusual for Service-leavers to become popular authors, John is far from alone in having followed the career path into the UK’s emergency services: most obviously these are the nation’s police, firefighters and ambulance crews, but can also include voluntary positions with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the nation’s numerous Search and Rescue (SAR) teams.


The career path is well-trodden thanks to a similarity in skills sets; not least in terms of physical stamina, mental fitness, discipline, and an ability to cope well under stress. In addition, you may have some practical experience of working in SAR or the emergency situations while serving in the Armed Forces.

That said; there isn’t a distinct recruitment programme giving preferential treatment to former members of the Armed Forces; you’ll have to apply to join your local police force, fire or ambulance service (etc) alongside everyone else. However, your time in uniform is likely to have honed a love of every day being different, of meeting and working with a wide range of different people.

The obvious advantage, of course, is that you’ll be able to practise and develop your skills outside of armed conflict, and also with a wider range of people than might have been in the past. Just make sure that, before you leave, you’ve taken full advantage of any resettlement courses (available through the CTP) which might be relevant to your ambitions — even if it’s just about proving your emergency driving skills!


Police: salaries vary between forces but the typical starting salary for police constables in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is £23,317, rising to£25,962 after initial training. In Scotland the figures are slightly higher, starting at £23,493 and rising to £26,223 after completion of initial training. Typical salaries, after several years’ experience range from: £36,519 to £41,040 for sergeants; £46,788 to £50,751 for inspectors; and £51,789 to £53,919 for chief inspectors.

Firefighters: Under a nationally agreed salary structure for firefighters, trainees start on £21,157. When full competence is achieved, this rises to £28,199. Higher rates apply for overtime. Crew manager salaries range from £29,971 (development) to £31,263 (competent) and watch manager salaries range from £31,940-£34,961. A station manager’s earning potential is between £36,365 and £40,109 plus overtime rates, subject to the officer’s level of competence.

Ambulance Crews: Ambulance care assistants, who drive non-emergency patients to and from hospital admissions and other healthcare appointments, start in Band 1 or 2 (in the NHS Agenda for Change pay structure), earning between £14,294 and £17,425; with experience this can rise to Band 3, £16,271 to £19,268. Emergency care assistants, who drive ambulances under emergency conditions, are also usually in Band 3, although extra allowances may be available for out of hours, shift and overtime working. Paramedics, who are the senior healthcare professional at an accident or emergency scene, begin in Band 5, earning between from £21,478 to £27,901. Senior paramedics (also known as emergency care practitioners) and team leaders will be in Band 6, earning from £25,783 to £34,530.

(Figures sourced from www.prospects.ac.uk and the National Careers Service.)


Of course, there’s one obvious difference between serving in the UK’s Armed Forces and its various Emergency Services; in the latter, you won’t have access to any weapons apart from your physical fitness, wits and diplomatic skills. Except for those serving in Northern Ireland, the vast majority of front-line police officers in the UK carry out their everyday duties unarmed.

Globally speaking, the UK is almost unique in this; only significantly less urban nations such as the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand and Norway have similarly unarmed police forces. This is in part down to tradition; opponents to any change argue that routinely arming police officers would undermine the existing principle of policing by consent — the notion that a police officer’s primary duty is to the British public, rather than the British State.

“When Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan Police there was a very strong (public) fear of the Military,” according to Peter Waddington, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Wolverhampton. “A force that did not routinely carry firearms — and wore blue rather than red, which was associated with the infantry — was part of his effort to distinguish the early ‘Peelers’ from the Army.”

That said; some 5% of officers in England and Wales now belong to specialist firearms units. And, of course, armed police have become a common-enough sight in airports, or outside embassies and at other security-sensitive locations.

However, each Police force in the UK has its own firearms units, consisting of qualified police officers who have completed a minimum of two years ‘on the beat’ before beginning courses conforming to the National Police Firearms Training Curriculum developed by the College of Policing.

In general, significant emphasis is placed on your knowledge of the law, the appropriate and proportional use of force, as well as your general temperament and fitness. Only if you pass those stages will you move on to the practical courses on weapon skills and tactics. Challenging is the word; but then, you like a challenge, don’t you?

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