Meet the four NI firefighting apprentices who have graduated at Belfast City Airport

Video: Conor Finch, Damien Wisdom, Jack Leathem and Cole McClelland land dream roles as operational firefighters

By Claire Cartmill
Wednesday, 27th July 2022, 7:00 am

Four young aspiring firefighters from Northern Ireland have passed a significant milestone in George Best Belfast City Airport’s ‘High Flyers Apprenticeship’ programme to secure full time employment within the Airport’s fire service.

Conor Finch, Damien Wisdom, Jack Leathem and Cole McClelland land dream roles as operational firefighters at the UK and Ireland’s most convenient airport after excelling through the first phases of a rigorous training process.

The young men, who beat off stiff competition from over 200 applicants to secure places on the coveted High Flyers programme, have completed qualifications in advanced medical casualty care, confined spaces, and hose deployment, and will continue their development programme to gain qualifications in LGV advanced driving of major foam appliances, hose working at heights, and water rescue – an element unique to Belfast City Airport.

Cole McClelland, Jack Leathem, Damien Wisdom, and Conor Finch, pass a significant milestone in George Best Belfast City Airport’s ‘High Flyers Apprenticeship’ programme to become operational firefighters within the Airport’s fire service

Following a graduation ceremony attended by proud family and friends, where the apprentices displayed their new skills with live firefighting demonstrations, all four will now operationally join a watch within the airport as competent aviation firefighters.

Appreciating the unique opportunity provided to him by Belfast City Airport, Damien Wisdom from west Belfast, said: “A firefighter is one of those jobs you dream of as a young boy but opportunities to get on the career ladder are few and far between so when I came across the airport’s High Flyers Apprenticeship programme, I jumped at the chance.”

Jack Leathem from Carrickfergus, reiterated Damien’s sentiment: “To get the chance to train as an aviation firefighter is a privilege but to then land employment with an organisation like Belfast City Airport is unbelievable so I’m incredibly thankful to the team there for the opportunity, the training, and the welcome they’ve given me and the other boys.”

Reflecting on the training programme, west Belfast native Conor said it has been “challenging but worthwhile” with Lisburn resident Cole emphasising that, thanks to the help from Belfast City Airport, he “will be able to help others in the future which is the most rewarding part” and is “looking forward to the next stages of the training programme”.

Firefighting apprentices at Belfast City Airport complete fire demonstration as part of High Flyers training programme

Now in its ninth year, Belfast City Airport’s High Flyers Apprenticeship programme has had a 100% success rate so far in graduating young people in Northern Ireland from apprentices to full time employment.

Speaking proudly of the airport’s investment in young people, Seamus MacMahon, chief fire officer at Belfast City Airport, added: “Supporting and developing young people is something we are incredibly passionate about here at Belfast City Airport and it’s an honour for us to be able to transfer our skills to the next generation and give them a chance to kick-start long and valuable careers in aviation firefighting.

“The hard work and determination these four apprentices have shown throughout their training programme to date has been second to none and we are incredibly proud of them for reaching this significant milestone.

“Conor, Damien, Jack, and Cole all possess the confidence and key traits of a successful firefighter. We are delighted to have them join our team at the airport in their new roles and look forward to working with them as they progress through the next stages of their training programme.”