Suffolk Fire Service has been running a series of events to recruit female fire fighters and I went to train with the team from Stowmarket Fire Station to find out what it takes to join its ranks.
While with the team, I took the fire service’s selection test aimed at ensuring recruits meet the required levels of fitness and are able to handle the mental pressures of the job.
The test has six parts. Firstly, potential recruits have to climb a ladder and perform a leg lock before letting go and leaning back.
This was the scariest part of the test, largely because the very caring watch commander told me to look down before letting go.
After this, recruits negotiate a dark confined space in full breathing apparatus before undergoing a series of fitness tests.
A 16st dummy has to be dragged across two lengths of the training yard then recruits run 12 lengths of the yard while carrying a variety of hoses and a weighted cage.
My biggest challenge came from being 5ft and having undertaken no training in preparation for the tests.
I found myself inching across the yard with the dummy which, if real, would undoubtedly have had his toes burnt, and struggling to lift a hose reel to shoulder height, let alone run with it.
However, despite being hopelessly unprepared, I did manage to complete the tests – carried along by the support and cameraderie of the Stowmarket team – and with a little training I think almost any woman would be able to.
While recovering, I spoke to Melanie Jackson, 30, who is training to join the team at Stowmarket.
She said: “Gender does play a role in some aspects, for example if there was a child trapped in a car I like to think I would be the best person to calm them, particularly as I have a child, but in my experience being a woman has not been an issue.
“My biggest challenge is that I’m 5ft tall and I’m never going to be as strong as the men.
“I would say it’s a male orientated job but they need females to make the team complete and the rewards you get back are amazing.”
Suffolk Fire Service needs on-call fire fighters, particularly those who can be on call during the day and are inviting women to go along to a station, find out more and give it go.
Suffolk Fire Service is holding a Ladies’ Open Day on May 1 at Ipswich East Fire Station, alternatively contact Karen Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org