Ullapool Fire Station has welcomed its first female firefighters. The four women have joined the Service as part of the on-call workforce. The Station operates with a staff of 20, and now 20% of their number is female. The four – who hold a range of occupations as their day jobs – are helping to break down the gender stereotype of what a modern firefighter is.
Carol Innes is a mum to four children, a school pupil support assistant, cleaner and an on-call firefighter. Her dad, Ewan Innes, was a firefighter at Nairn Fire Station for 30 years and when Carol became a mum aged 16, she didn’t believe she could become a firefighter.
She said: ‘I’ve grown up with my dad running out the door, even at Christmas, and you knew he was going to help someone. When you are a firefighter’s child it’s what you are used to. It’s been in my blood but life gets in the way, now I feel I have accomplished what I have always wanted to do.’
When she was at school, Carol struggled as she was dyslexic, and she wants to urge others not to let this be a barrier to potential applicants.
She said: ‘The Service really helps you. I read better on blue paper and one of trainers printed everything on blue paper to help me. It’s the little things you appreciate.’
Carol is looking forward to getting into the community, to help others, give safety advice and hopefully inspire some other young potential firefighters.
She said: ‘I’d like to do talks at school. The young people will see me as being a pupil support assistant and then a firefighter. I’d like to show that regardless of what happens in life, we can do anything when we put our mind to it.’
When Fenella Renwick answers her pager, her three-year-old son thinks she is going to Pontypandy – the home of Fireman Sam.
Fenella, age 32, is mum to Liam, age nine and Arthur, age three. She lives in Leckhelm, just outside Ullapool and she is co-owner of The Seafood Shack serving up freshly cooked seafood from Ullapool.
She said: ‘I was worried how I would fit it in but you make it work. The boys understand if the pager goes off, mum’s away! Arthur is obsessed with Fireman Sam so for a while he thought I was off to Pontypandy!’
She added: ‘Walking into the station at first was very nerve-wracking. Having all the other firefighters who are so experienced and wanting you to learn is a great support but it still felt like my first day at school! And being able to help anyone is a good feeling.’
India Poe is a full-time lifeguard and swim teacher for Highlife at the Lochbroom Leisure Centre, with the support of her employer, the flexibility of the on-call role works for her, and the 20-year-old wants more women to join the Service.
She said: ‘If you’re thinking your full-time job is a barrier or if you have commitments, you can choose the contract you have with SFRS by choosing how many hours you’re available each week. We need more firefighters and we definitely need more women.’
India’s parents work in the emergency services. Her dad, Mark Poe, has served as a firefighter for over 30 years.
He is a Watch Commander currently based in the training department for the Highland Area, as well as being part of the on-call staff at Ullapool Fire Station. Her uncle, Iain Poe, is also in the Service, based at Galashiels.
She said: ‘I admire how my mum and dad go about their roles in the emergency services. I joined the Service because I wanted to provide support to the community and surrounding areas. It’s a very rewarding career.’
India has been surprised at the vast area the station covers, as far as past Lochinver and down towards Aultbea, and she’s also enjoying the training.
She said: ‘Training was very educational and the instructors were fantastic. My colleagues at the station have been a massive help and every training night or call out has been a very big learning curve.’
With the help of a personal trainer, Riona MacPherson found physical strength and confidence to apply to the Service. The 30-year-old lives in Ullapool, works full time at a local pottery and has also started a dog grooming business.
She said: ‘I went to a personal trainer to put on a bit of weight. I thoroughly enjoyed weight training and was surprised by what I could do. The biggest benefit the personal training made was getting that confidence in myself.’
Riona’s pager went off for the first time at 6am on her 30th birthday which was to a false alarm.
She said: ‘You focus on what you’re doing and your training kicks in. Even having the uniform on just puts you in the right mindset.’
Riona grew up watching her uncle’s career as an on-call firefighter, he has since retired, and she has the full support of her colleagues at the station.
She said: ‘I was worried they might treat us differently but they couldn’t have done enough to welcome us.’
Riona is interested in learning more about mental health and how to support her colleagues. She has been undergoing the mental health training courses which are offered by the Service.
She said: ‘I want to learn more about how we can support each other. It’s great the Service give us this training. I’m hoping my story may encourage someone to give it a go and to know they are more capable than they think they are.’
We are working to attract and recruit more On Call Firefighters. Derek Wilson, Local Senior Officer for Highland, said: ‘On Call Firefighters are exceptional individuals and I would like to thank them for their commitment. There is no doubt that we are experiencing challenges in recruiting firefighters across Scotland but we are taking active steps to increase the number within our more remote and rural communities.’
Our On Call Improvement Programme is driving improvements and has identified key strategic themes which include attraction, recruitment, retention, competence, contractual and policy. We already have 54 On Call Support Watch Commanders to support on-call firefighters and we have introduced a pre-recruitment engagement programme which invites candidates into the station environment for up to 12 weeks prior to their selection tests to help them understand the role.