My Week; Mani Gilbert Sub Officer at Hove Fire Station

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The Independent Culture
Monday

I arrive at Hove fire station, where I am sub officer, in time for the Watch Parade at nine. We have been in only 10 minutes when we get called to a fire on the roof of a two- storey house. There is no one inside and we manage to extinguish the fire in about five minutes. We spend the next three hours cleaning up. Everything has to come out so there is no danger of the fire re-igniting. This is typical of our bread and butter jobs. The fire itself takes only minutes to put out - it is the clearing up that takes the time.

From this job we are called straight to a language school where three students are stuck in a lift. It takes about 15 minutes to get them out, but they don't seem concerned by the experience.

Just before lunch, we get a fire alarm call to a local leisure centre. Someone has broken a call point. These malicious calls are annoying and waste time.

After lunch we get a call to a car fire on the A27. It turns out to be steam caused by over heating. After handing over to the night watch at six, I then head off to the gym for a few hours.

Tuesday

In work at half-eight, we have the parade and then carry out detailed equipment checks. At 9.45, we have PT (physical training) in the gym. We all have to train and there are an awful lot of unfit people in the brigade. I'm very active and find the training quite easy. We get an RTA (road traffic accident) call out during PT. I quickly whip off my shorts and T-shirt and change into uniform. No one is trapped inside the car, so we make the vehicle safe and deal with the petrol spillage.

In the afternoon we have training with the aerial ladder, which is 32ft high and used for reaching high rise buildings. During our tea break we get a fire call which turns out to be a bonfire in a garden. We finish work at six and head to the pub for a drink.

Wednesday

Today I'm working the night shift. I go to the gym, but am careful not to overdo it. I never know what I might be called out for during the night.

I start work at six. We have equipment checks and then drills. We practise pitching a few ladders. The heaviest ladder weighs 102kilos and needs four people to lift it.

I've pitched this ladder with three other women in the past, so any one who says that women aren't physically capable of being fire fighters are talking bollocks. Some of the men can't do stuff, everyone has their own limitations, it's not a problem.

At nine, we get a call to assist an ambulance with an elderly lady. There are three women on the watch tonight and the ambulance guys are quite surprised that the women outnumber the men three to two.

At supper time, everyone takes it in turns to cook. As sub officer I don't have to get involved, but as an ex-chef, I do cook now and again. Today the guys are cooking a roast. After supper we get a chance to watch TV, play table tennis and relax.

At midnight we all take a sleeping bag and go to sleep in the dorm. (At Hove the dorm is mixed)

Thursday

There is only one call during the night, at about four. It's a false alarm. I am used to the shock of the bells ringing, but I don't really sleep on nights. At 6.45, we are woken by a younger team member, who brings us all a cup of tea. After breakfast at eight, we hand over to the day watch at nine.

I have a quiet day wandering around the shops in town. I am back at work at six.

We have to take the minibus out to relieve the day watch, who are already at a fire. They've done all the good stuff putting out the fire. We're left with the cleaning up.

On the news, we see that the Home Office report into the Fire Service has been released. It's quite a damning report, but we were told about it more than a month ago by one of the chief officers.

I have never had any experience of discrimination while I have been working here, although I have heard some horror stories. I was actually encouraged to join the force by some male friends who were fire fighters. I have experienced a cold response from some of the wives, though.

Friday

It's my day off. I go to the gym and spend the rest of the day shopping and doing work around the house. I see more about the fire service in the newspapers. Although there are no problems at our station, all the brigades are separate and all do things differently. I hope this report does some good in areas where they are problems.

Interview by

Daisy Price

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