Female officer heads up performance and information in Service

Samantha Pink

To mark International Women’s Day this week (8 March), we’re profiling different female fire service staff throughout the week, all of whom play a vital role in Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service.

Today we meet Group Commander Samantha Pink, who heads up the Service’s Performance & Information Department, bringing her many years of experience to bear in these key areas.

Describing what she does, Sam – as her colleagues and friends know her – says:

“I take a lead on how well we’re performing and demonstrating innovation as a service, always looking ahead to improve and optimise the way we work.

“As our Senior Liaison Officer to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which oversees all fire service standards, I really enjoy getting to grips with the complexities of a firefighting service and how efficiently we deliver our core functions.

“Having worked my way up through our Prevention, Protection and Response departments, this role seemed the obvious next step, putting me at the centre of the organization and understanding how the HQ seeks to coordinate and inspire our 26 fire stations and their teams.”

The fire service has not been Sam’s lifetime career though, as she explains:

“I originally trained as a nurse and served in a number of hospitals in the West Midlands, working in operating theatres and in infection control among other specialisms, and loved the profession.

“But after 13 years, I was ready for a new direction and the fire service beckoned. The dynamic, busy world of operational firefighting really appealed, as well as the wide variety of opportunities available to us, not just putting out fires but across a whole range of activities and areas which people might not think of, whether other types of rescue situations, training, planning or staff development.

“Certainly my nursing experience has often proved invaluable during callouts, as well as sharing best practice with colleagues, but I’ve been lucky enough to take on all sorts of roles and learn a breadth of new skills.”

Challenges that have come Sam’s way in her 18 years in the fire service range from ‘hands on’ to complex staff work, including running youth courses, re-organising shift patterns and working with vulnerable people communicating with British Sign Language, as well as prevention road safety activities, producing a short film that was shown in cinemas.

I also worked on the development of an operational excellence training programme and attendance-management projects.

Being a woman has proved no bar to promotion, as Sam’s rise up the career ladder demonstrates.

Her first 16 years were with West Midlands Fire Service, operating as a frontline firefighter for a decade before promotion to Crew Commander, then Watch Commander, leading for the service on operational and fire safety.

Sam was Station Commander at three busy inner-city stations and during that time served on stations right across the West Midlands.

Keen to advance still further, Sam has been more than willing to move around:

“I was offered promotion to Group Commander in HWFRS two years ago and jumped at it, now working at our Hindlip HQ outside Worcester. It is more responsibility but I relish this and have never felt sidelined for being a woman.”

Sam, who with her husband Gary, a former firefighter, has three grown up children, admits people are surprised at what she does but less so than in the past:

“People do comment on it but not as much as they used to, which suggests to me that there’s been a shift in perception – the message is getting out that it’s a great career for women. Of course I’d like to re-emphasise that, for anyone who is still isn’t sure.”

“The fire service is enormously diverse, with a fabulous range of roles and skills. For me it has been incredibly rewarding and opened up so many opportunities.

“I wouldn’t deny it’s a challenging career, especially when you get more senior, but the shift pattern of four days on/four days off allows plenty of rest time, and the service strives to be flexible to support family life. And if you want to rise to the highest level, male or female, every encouragement is there and no obstacles are put in our way.”

Sam is full of praise for the service’s female support group ‘Women@HWFire’:

“It’s invaluable as a sounding board for us to discuss issues before they become serious problems impacting on efficiency or morale. If we can share viewpoints, then we can relate to each other better and gain in strength.

“The network runs really worthwhile development events to let us try out new skills and stretch our abilities and expertise. Our Women’s Fitness programme, for example, for female firefighter applicants, allowed them to discover for themselves if they could meet the physical demands of the profession and, if not, how to improve fitness levels to reach the required standard.

“Initiatives such as these can make a real difference in a woman’s decision whether or not to become a firefighter, as well as providing support, networking, and enhancing diversity within the Service.

“The more we can show women what the service has to offer them, and that they can make the grade, the more we can encourage them to see us as a viable career option.”

If you’d like to know how to join the Fire Service and make a difference in a wide variety of roles, you can find out more at Join us | Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (hwfire.org.uk) .