Today, fire service is still a very male dominated field. Beci Newton, one of the 35 female firefighters all through the South Wales, talks about her life serving the fire service and barriers facing women today.
“When I was small, I watched things on television like London’s Burning Fireman Sam. When I looked at Penny Morris as well as some other female firefighters in London’s Burning Fireman Sam, even as a small child at that time, I was just going that’s what I want to do….”
Beci’s father used to be a retained firefighter, so when her family heard the little girl’s decision to become a young Fire Cadet at the age of thirteen, they were incredibly supportive.
However, voices questioning: “Can girls be firefighters?” still appeared. “It was mainly the people around have the doubts, like teachers and friends… Lots of people just didn’t understand girls could even be fire fighters,” Beci says.
The success of Alison Kibblewhite, who was the first full-time female firefighters in Wales and and once gained the white station commander’s helmet, encouraged Beci. She says: “I can remember seeing her on TV. It was not imaginary or fake one. She is real women really doing in that job and I was lucky enough to see her and realized that it could be a reality.”
Now, despite working as crew manager and temperature watch manager at Cardiff central fire station, Beci also works as an on call firefighter for her nearest town Caerphilly. She says: “Pretty much all of my life is constantly doing something to do with the fire service unless I’m sleeping or eating.”
The unknown nature is the most challenging as well as the most charming part of a firefighter’s work. They would never know the alert would take them when it went off. It could be a house fire, a water rescue a car accident, a chemical spill , a biohazard incident or some child with a finger stuck in a bike chain.
Even though every female firefighter has trained herself hard to be able to fit the role, and passed same tests to reach the standard as their male colleagues. But there is situation you will find challenging both physically and emotionally. Beci says she would call for help when it’s necessary rather than hurt herself to prove she can or directly flinched because of the gender.
She says: “Because men also do this as well. We just help each other as a team. There is always going to be the one who’s stronger, the one who is a bit more diplomatic and one who is better at looking at the rest… but we can always work together.”
Being a firefighter is not a nine to five role, so losing the time to stay with family is another challenge, especially for a woman with kids.
Luckily for Beci, her husband, who woks at power station also have work shifts, can empathize with her experience.
When Beci is on shift, her husband took their four year old daughter to ballet class and seven year old son to rugby, after that he takes them home cooks dinner. Beci says: “He does all these things not because he’s a single dad or babysitting his own kids, but because we work together and when he has turned to go to work I do the same.”
“I think there are still people with the expectation that a man will go to work on a woman will stay home. And our society are very slowly getting away from the social norm that some jobs are for men and some jobs are for women,” says Beci.
“The work-life balance is an issue for women in many works today. I think the big and real barriers for women today is child care. So many women do not give up but they they lose so many opportunities based on their position as a mother.”
Last time Beci wrote an email to the shop NEXT making complaints, because she went to buy her daughter a fire engine T-shirt from the the boy’s section, because that was only place she could buy fire engine T-shirt. “How can this be boys?” Beci says. But she didn’t get any response.
“As a society, we boxed off too many things into blue and pink,” Beci says, “We got different sections in toy shops for boys and girls, we’ve got different clothes for boys and girls we got everything boys and girls. Why can’t we let toys just be toys? What messages will be given to small children? I can do it but you can’t ?”
Beci son wanted to be ballet dancer once but she says he probably will not because all he can see in his sister’s ballet class are girls and he think it is a girl thing.
“But I am so glad my daughter see me as a firefighter and she can name some female rugby players. I think we lack role models today, because sometimes people need some one to pinpoint in the way to show them that they can make it happen.”