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“I just wanted to get back to fighting fires”

Steve smiling wearing his firefighter uniform

Firefighter Steve Mintern, 51, from Berkshire, thought his career was over when he lost his hearing in both ears overnight. But thanks to a supportive employer, Steve was back fighting fires just five months later.

“Ten years ago, I woke up one morning to discover I’d lost most of my hearing. I only realised something was wrong when I saw that my wife was speaking to me – but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. My hearing had been wiped out overnight.

To this day, doctors still can’t say why it happened, but after a number of tests and scans I was told that the hearing loss was permanent, and that I’d need two hearing aids. Within 24 hours my life had changed completely.

At that point I was almost 20 years into a career as a firefighter, a job I love. That was my greatest fear – that I would no longer be able to be out there, fighting fires. I was worried that I’d be found another role, sat behind a desk, and would complete the last years of my career doing something I didn’t want to do.

I was the first firefighter in the UK to be a double hearing-aid wearer, so there were no policies in place for me. When I came back to work, I had a meeting with my senior officer and I told him: ‘I want to be back doing the job I love’. He simply said to me: ‘So what do we need to do to help you?’ It wasn’t a problem. Thankfully being a firefighter means you’re part of a team that supports you no matter what.

The HR department devised different tests that I had to pass to be at the required level, including functional hearing tests. Access to Work came in and helped the station implement adjustments to help me. They re-wrote the whole hearing policy to incorporate hearing aids and reasonable adjustments – a policy that has now helped firefighters in similar positions in other brigades.

Around five months after I’d lost my hearing, I was back and fully operational on the fire engine.

Being able to do my final 10 years riding the fire engines was a massive thing for me. I’m retiring in 18 months, so touch wood – despite having lost my hearing – I’m almost there. I think my experience shows that with the right support, hearing loss doesn’t need to be a barrier for anyone.”

Please note: Steve’s story is individual and other firefighters who lose their hearing may have different experiences.

Our Working for Change campaign

Our Working for Change campaign aims to improve attitudes to hearing loss in the workplace. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, we need your help.

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