When she was a little girl, Shannon Andrews used to watch through her front-room window as her dad, Mark, who is a Watch Commander with the Service, raced from the house to the nearby fire station and took off in the fire engine with sirens sounding and blue lights flashing.
And that sowed the seed which led to her putting in an expression of interest to become an on-call firefighter when she reached her 18th birthday.
“As a teenager, I had been a volunteer for the Fire Service, helping with trauma training, often covered with realistic injuries in practice scenarios for fire crews,” she said.
“It was being part of these training sessions that really made me want to be part of the team at Whitchurch, watching the crews working together and making a difference in my community.”
She is hardly likely to forget her first ‘shout’ which came just a matter of eight hours after completing her Breathing Apparatus course.
That saw her sent into a burning building in the early hours of the morning by the officer in charge, who just happened to be her dad, the very same person who had been one of the instructors on her course.
“Since then, I have been to cliff rescues, road traffic collisions, water incidents and barn fires,” said Shannon. “I even stopped on my way back to work from the fire station to help a mother and her unresponsive baby.
“All the trauma skills that I had learned on my course and in the training sessions with my dad were suddenly of great value.”
With her family background in the Service, there was going to be little that surprised Shannon about the role of a firefighter, but one aspect proved a challenge.
“I was surprised at the level of physical fitness needed,” said Shannon. “As I’m only little it took a while to build up the strength to pass the physical tests - which is often the case with smaller men and women.
“I love the job, it’s very rewarding and it serves the community as well. When I tell people what I do, I get a lot of disbelief - I don’t look like a stereotypical firefighter but it’s all about technique really.”
Shannon, who is now 20, combines her on-call firefighter role with a full-time job as a general assistant at the Wye Valley Visitor Centre in Symonds Yat, which is just a couple of hundred metres from the fire station.
“The owners of the centre are both ex-firefighters and they have given me tremendous support as well as being very helpful in letting crews stage training events at the centre,” she said.
“It is essential to have the support of local employers to release staff to do an on-call role as, without it, the Fire Service could not provide the level of operational cover it currently does.”
On-call firefighters combine their roles with other careers, or roles at home, providing a vital service to the community in which they live and work. Some work for local businesses, others are self-employed, while others are home-makers – but all enjoy the balance of their firefighter commitments with their other responsibilities, and the extra income too, knowing that they are Saving More Lives.
To learn more about becoming an on-call firefighter, visit www.hwfire.org.uk/on-call.