A campaign to get more women to become firefighters has been launched as three of the latest recruits get ready to join Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.
A primary school teaching assistant from Much Wenlock, Church Stretton fitness instructor and Clun pub barmaid are undergoing training at the fire training school in Telford to bring to 19 the number of women now serving as county firefighters.
Since October, two have been juggling work with family commitments while learning the ropes to become one of more than 300 “on call” firefighters who turn out at a moment’s notice to deal with around the clock emergencies in the county including road crashes and house fires.
They have pushed themselves to the limit to pass physically demanding fitness tests, overcome fears in tough training sessions and re-arranged their lives to join an elite, highly skilled group ready to carry out whatever is demanded of them in a 999 call.
Kat Frost (29), a mother of two young children aged four and two, lost an amazing seven stone before beginning her battle to become a firefighter. She has just finished the gruelling breathing apparatus test in which recruits have to search and “rescue” a heavy dummy from a blackened, smoke filled building.
“It’s one of the best things I have ever done. The adrenalin rush is amazing. You have to confront your fears and I just couldn’t possibly have done this two years ago,” said the former nursery nurse, who joined Slimming World, ran and swam hundreds of miles and took up weight training to realise her dream.
“It’s been an amazing 12 months from when I was accepted after passing the job related tests to now just finishing the breathing apparatus course which tests you mentally and physically.
“But I did it,” said Kat, who works as an evening barmaid at the Sun Inn at Clun.
Fellow trainee Michelle Townsend (43), a mother of two boys aged 13 and 10, is on the same course where they have also learned ladder skills, how to pump water, use a fire hose, first aid, and how to rescue people from rivers and crashed cars.
“I worked on my upper body strength and the course is brilliant and it didn’t kill me. The instructors are excellent,” said Michelle, a fitness instructor at Church Stretton leisure centre who will be the first woman firefighter in the town.
“It pushes you out of your comfort zone to do something that you never thought possible,” said Michelle, who overcame a fear of claustrophobia to pass the breathing apparatus test.
“I though I was scared of confined spaces but I’m not. It’s given me a real sense of achievement to overcome my fear.”
Her young son later told her he had “a funny feeling” in his stomach which he said was “pride” at his mum’s achievement.
Both women carry out their final On The Run practical test on February 12 when they have to put out fires in a car, rubbish skip, shipping container and answer a mock call to deal with a house blaze.
They said that attending “taster” days held last year by Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service to encourage women to join the service had been the best thing they had ever done. Mother of two Steph Tench (40), who has just passed her fitness test starts her 17 week training course in March.
“I went to a taster day last year and enjoyed it. Joining the fire service is something I have wanted to do for some time. I think it’s in my blood as my grandfather was a firefighter in Much Wenlock.
“I turned 40 recently and it made me think that I wanted to do something more challenging.”
Taster sessions for women will be held at fire stations in Oswestry on February 21; Craven Arms on May 2 and at another of Shropshire’s 22 stations in September. Women can just turn up at 9.30am for the sessions which run until midday.
“On call” firefighters must live or work within five minutes of a fire station, and are needed to turn out for a set number of hours each week to answer 999 calls and attend weekly drill sessions.
A suitable candidate must pass job related physical tests proving they can work in confined spaces, are confident at heights and are strong enough to put a 13.5 metre ladder back onto a fire appliance with other crew members.
Initial tests include applicants having to climb a ladder, carry equipment wearing full fire kit around a course for up to six minutes and negotiate a blind gallery area wearing breathing apparatus. They also have to carry an adult sized dummy along a 13 metre course within 41 seconds and pull apart and reassemble equipment in just over five minutes.
For more information call Laura Kavanagh-Jones at Shrewsbury fire HQ on 01743 260200 or visit www.shropshirefire.gov.uk You can also follow the county brigade on Facebook and Twitter.