Nottinghamshire’s first female firefighter, who recently shared her ground-breaking experience with Motorfinity.
I was always a tomboy, full of determination and very fit. Every time I saw the fire engine, I would think, ‘I would love to be on that!’
I have always been community-minded so when I saw the ‘Recruiting Now!’ notice, it was a green light for me. Even though the notice did not mention women and there had never been a female firefighter stationed there, I was compelled to apply. I was to become the first female firefighter in Nottinghamshire at a time when there were only 7 other female firefighters in the country. The only women in the Fire Service, (until 1982), were telephone operators - people felt it was lovely to hear a woman’s voice.
At this stage of my life, I was married to Nigel, and we had 3 sons. I knew that this was my opportunity to fulfil my ambition serving my community with hours to suit a work/life balance. Nigel, as always, was fully supportive.
I rang Bestwood Lodge, Fire Service HQ, and within an hour, Mario Stankovich had arrived at my house. His opening statement was, “You know there are no female showers or toilets!” I was not going to be deterred and my firefighting journey had begun.
The initial training was over a week and a lot of this involved what to do when you cannot see in a smoke-filled building – all your other senses kick in. I remember being sent through a building blindfolded, and soon realized that it was the men’s toilets. I could smell the urinals - the instructor’s idea of having fun!
A lot of the training was carrying heavy weights. I was 5ft 4ins and weighed about 8st 8lbs but would be set tasks of carrying a 12 stone man the length of the yard using a fireman’s lift technique and running with tanks to negotiate a wall unassisted. It took incredible grit and acute alertness.
A Sense of Humour
We were once doing a ‘blind’ exercise where we had to follow the training officer’s whistle. Using the ‘fireman’s shuffle’, feeling your way onwards, I sensed on this occasion that there was a hidden agenda and decided to adapt the technique to a ‘bum shuffle’. How right I was as the officer was leaning over the edge of a reservoir with his whistle encouraging me to take a plunge which would have caused great hilarity.
At a training session one evening, I was nominated as the casualty who had fallen through a loft and had multiple injuries. I was bandaged up and strapped on a makeshift stretcher, (an extension ladder), when someone shouted, “Tea up!” EVERYONE left for their tea-break leaving me still strapped to the ladder propped up against the wall!
Camaraderie and Dealing with Trauma
My colleagues were fantastic. There was massive trust and camaraderie. They never saw me as the weakest link, and we all worked to our strengths.
Following a major trauma was when the camaraderie amongst us would come to the fore. We would often sit quietly back at the station in the bar. Sometimes, dark humour played a part, accepted in trying to deal with traumatic experiences.
I think dealing with trauma was a role that, as a female, I could help with. Men did not tend to show emotion and it was a light bulb moment to have a woman in the mix.
For me, RTA’s, (Road Traffic Accidents), tend to stand out in my mind.
I once attended an RTA where a young woman in her 30’s was fatally injured. She was still sitting in the front of the vehicle and simply looked asleep. It was deeply sad to think of family and friends and a life tragically cut short. Her face still haunts me when I pass that stretch of road.
On another occasion, we attended an RTA involving 2 brothers. One was screaming in the front of the car, the other was very quiet in the rear. My boss said, “Go to the quiet one!” The quiet one was the worrying one and I clambered into the wreckage to sit beside him, support his head, and try to comfort him until the Ambulance Service arrived.
There are still relatively few women in the Fire and Rescue Service, and you have got to really want it to join it. If so, go for it! Kick ass, be confident and draw on all your resilience!
Ahead of Her Time
It was to be another 15 years plus before another woman entered the Nottinghamshire Fire Service.
Women in the Fire Service Organisation welcome the definite increase in the number of operational women across the UK and are working to promote the range of opportunities available at all levels to those women who have the ambition to become part of the Fire and Rescue Service. Without doubt, there is a cultural shift taking place with more female senior leaders in the UK Fire and Rescue Services than ever before.