Our Women in the Fire Service UK Awards 2020 honoured remarkable individuals who have developed, encouraged and reinforced the role of women in the sector. Winners and runners-up in seven categories were selected from over 50 candidates across the UK. Below are their stories, which showcase their work towards equalities advancement, and their passion for community, and team spirit.
Young Person Role Model Award
Demi O’Mellon (Scottish Fire and Rescue Service) works closely with young people involved in the Fire Reach programme. The programme, running in North Lanarkshire for over 14 years, supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop their skills and improve self-esteem. Alongside Demi’s responsibility for the development and delivery of the Youth Engagement Strategy, she co-ordinates activities and supports the development of service personnel. Her clear passion and commitment for the cause has inspired future generations of firefighters, with many programme attendees now considering a career in the fire service.
Demi’s nominator said, “Demi’s enthusiasm is infectious, as is her commitment to her Instructor role at Fire Reach. Her empathetic approach to working with young adults on the programme is second to none. I have witnessed Demi not only help the young people deal with these issues, but actively encourage and inspire them to be all that they can be.”
Our Awards Panel said, “Demi’s nomination really impressed us as well as moving us to tears. Her passion, contributions, dedication and efforts are a credit to her and the Scottish fire service.”
Isla Overend (Scottish Fire and Rescue Service), Kleria Baptista-Mendes (London Fire Brigade), and Charlotte Elizabeth Pickering (South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue) were joint runners-up. Our Awards Panel said, “We are delighted to celebrate Isla, Kleria, and Charlotte with this award. They personify what is great about young people, and are fantastic role models who are clearly passionate, determined and dedicated in what they do.”
Kleria blossomed as an officer cadet with maturity way beyond her years. She became a unique asset to the team. Her nominator said, “New cadets respected Kleria and she found a way of enforcing discipline through leadership and as a role model. Kleria’s commitment and knowledge were undisputed and her empathy to young people made her the perfect person to bridge the gap between adults and Cadets. At the unit we had a large Bangladeshi Community surrounding us and had just started to make inroads into engagement with them. The girls that joined were timid and struggling to understand their place as equals at cadets. Kleria became their champion and supported and encouraged them to find their voice.
In 2018 Kleria applied to become an Ambassador Cadet, the highest ranking Cadets in London. Kleria passed with flying colours and took up her role as Borough Commander Ambassador Cadet for NE London. She applied for promotion and achieved the highest rank in LFB Fire Cadets (Assistant Commissioner Ambassador Cadet) the first time this rank has ever been held by a woman. She has spoken passionately about the need for young people to break down barriers across London communities to make streets safer and to celebrate diversity. As an 18 year old in a leadership role Kleria continues to work with, support and champion all of our young people in London without bias, and speak out on division and inequality wherever she finds it.”
Isla joined the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service young firefighter programme (now SFRS Youth Volunteer Scheme) aged 14. After a short time Isla gained more confidence and started to feel more relaxed and comfortable, making new friends and embracing the experiences offered to her. Successful in gaining a youth crew commander position, exposed her to leading her team in drills and assisting with community events. Isla’s determination and caring approach quickly sent the message to other young people, young women in particular that they too could be successful young role models representing the fire and rescue service and working together for better outcomes and improving life chances.
After various practical assessments, interviews and tests, Isla became a youth watch commander at her youth volunteer scheme in Dumbarton. Her nominator said, “Isla has gone above and beyond her role as a youth watch commander, a true role model to not only young people in the FRS but within the wider service and community. When it was time for Isla to start deciding her career choices, she was determined to study and achieve strong results so she could leave school after 5th year.”
Charlotte Elizabeth Pickering (South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue) a Fire Cadet for 3 years, and one of the longest serving cadets. Her nominator said, “Upon finishing as a cadet she is now volunteering, supporting new starters and making them feel welcome, happy and confident. This is really important because being the new person in a group can be very daunting. Charlotte was invited to celebrate the service’s International Women’s Day event at its training school and although she had plans with a work placement, she changed her days around to enable her to attend as an observer. On the day, a number of staff volunteers couldn’t attend and Charlotte stepped in to assist—she was an absolute credit to the service and helped make the day a great success. As an amazing role model, she inspired the teenage girls there to be the very best they can be.”
Woman Firefighter Rising Star Award
Danielle Heathcote (Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service) has attended over 100 community engagement events. These have centered on positive action and recruitment, inclusion and diversity, including ‘Have a Go’ days encouraging more women to become firefighters; Pride events working with LGBT+ communities; acting as a visible role model at International Women’s Day events, recounting her personal journey within the fire service and why she feels more women should become firefighters.
As well as using social media to challenge myths and stereotypes, Dani has attended a local nursery where one little girl had said she couldn’t be a firefighter as it was ‘only for boys’. Dani visited with the fire engine and talked to pre-school children about the fire service. She is confident in challenging the use of outdated terms such as ‘fireman’ and constantly encourages young people at schools and colleges to consider a career in the fire service, through delivering presentations independently, helping at careers fairs and taking part in assemblies, where students guess her occupation. They never guess that she is a firefighter!
Our Awards Panel said, “Dani has engaged with the parents of girls who don’t think that they could become firefighters, sharing photos of herself at work, and has also highlighted the frustration at being asked if she is a ‘real’ firefighter, as she is a more petite female. Her images on social media are visible reminders to everyone, that there is no such thing as a stereotypical firefighter—something that Danielle challenges at all times.
Agata Wieczorek (Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service) was nominated for her ‘phenomenal achievements’. Our Awards Panel said, “We were delighted to be able recognise Agata’s achievements; her story is one of bravery, sheer will and determination. Not deterred by the barriers she faces, she sees them as challenges to be overcome. She is an advocate and ambassador on gender equality and actively seeks to resolve issues faced by women within the fire service.”
Her nominator said, “After moving to UK, she often walked past the fire station and considered joining as an On Call Firefighter and after only a short time, Agata joined the On Call service in 2012 aged 26. Agata became a wholetime firefighter in 2015 and quickly identified the lack of representation of women within the service, and had a strong desire to address this. Being proactive she sought advice from colleagues she regarded as role models. Following her probation she was quick to undertake the IC1 course which would allow her to take charge of a fire appliance.
Over the next few years Agata made the most of development opportunities open to her. In 2019 she became a WT Crew Commander. Earlier this year she also undertook the On Call Crew Commander Promotion Process in which she was successful. Agata attended the WFS development event at the Fire Service College to gain greater insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by women in the fire service and following this, set up a Female Ops Working Group within Cambridgeshire FRS.
Men as Allies Award
Tim Pope (South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue) pictured above, was described by his nominator as “… having been at the heart of diverse recruitment and being brave and trying new things (which whilst a priority for every fire and rescue service) has generated measurably different results. He has also been open in sharing our approach and resources with other services and this has in turn helped inform the Home Office’s own diversity push. Away from his day-to-day work, he is an authentic advocate of the real impact of equality, diversity and inclusion in our organisation. He will always—professionally and appropriately—call things out if he thinks they are unfair or inequitable, and truly believes in the spirit of equal access and opportunity. On a personal level, Tim is always looking out for the well-being of others.”
Our Awards Panel said, “Tim is living proof that it doesn’t matter how senior you are, or what role you do to be able to pack a punch and make a real difference. Being a male ally in male dominated culture can be tricky, but is such an important part of changing culture, tackling inclusion and takes the spotlight away from those who are new and/or different who are still finding their voice.”
Stephen Harris (West Midlands Fire Service). Our Awards Panel said, “Steve has supported and developed several women in the fire service, judging without bias and always inspiring leadership through a coaching style which empowers, and so has made the learning experience a confident positive outcome. Last year he attended our training and development event and has become a great supporter, always going the extra mile.”
Corporate Star Supporter Award
Toni Annette-Norman and Linda Baker (East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service) are volunteer coordinators and involved in the active promotion and recruitment of women of all ages and abilities to support the fire service. They have recruited women with a variety of abilities, including learning and physical needs as volunteers, who contribute to community events, station days and prevention campaigns. Toni and Linda are inclusive, encouraging and ensure that our volunteers have fun, as well as developing them and contributing hundreds of hours of volunteering to our community. Their nominator said, “They are a double act… they ooze inclusion, fun and community spirit and have helped ensure that women get a sense of worth from contributing as volunteers to community safety as part of our service.”
Our Awards Panel said, “Volunteers in the fire and rescue service provide an exceptional service to the local communities and make a vital contribution providing fire and road safety information, and practical assistance to the local community. Ensuring that East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service always has sufficient volunteers is incredibly important.”
Dany Cotton Inspiring Leader Award
Dr. Anne Scoging and Lynsey Seal (London Fire Brigade) were joint winners.
Anne was nominated by her team at LFB who told the panel, “Following Grenfell, the Counselling and Trauma Service expanded to ten counsellors all from diverse backgrounds. Anne champions equality, and her recruitment of our highly experienced and diverse team already represents how London Fire Brigade wants to move forward. She supports us in our development and self-care as psychological therapists working with trauma, and brings out the best in us. She’s shown great vision and commitment in terms of developing the counselling service and raising the profile of mental health and well-being issues within the organisation. Last year in particular, has been through her championing of outreach work—helping to develop the mental health peer group of United Minds, the new Mental Health First Aiders network, and creating accessible online modules to increase awareness of mental health issues within the Brigade”.
Lynsey has quietly and tirelessly supported equalities and inclusion by helping to develop and lead one of the brigade’s most diverse teams; acting as a role model and mentor for female staff; suggesting and supporting the children’s book ‘My Mummy is a Firefighter’; forging links with Sandhurst military academy; and organising Brigade participation in events highlighting opportunities to young women at school (and older women). She is a Chartered Surveyor and is regarded as a true leader in her field of work. Lynsey has an exceptional passion for public service, the fire service and our communities and is an incredibly modest person.”
Our Awards Panel said, “We were particularly delighted that we had such a strong set of nominations for the ‘Dany Cotton Inspiring Leader Award’. Dany has been an inspiration and role model for many people in the UK fire service. It was only fitting that we had an award in her name. We had a tough job to make a decision, so in the end, we awarded two winners.”
Dany Cotton, WFS Patron and former Commissioner of London Fire Brigade said, “I am thrilled with our two winners, Anne Scoging and Lynsey Seal. I’ve had the privilege of working with both, and can genuinely say they display outstanding leadership characteristics alongside being very dedicated, professional and caring individuals. I know they will be very shocked and exceedingly humbled when they find out they are winners. I really hope to be able to congratulate them in person soon.”
Jenni Seex (Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service). Dany Cotton said, “Jenni was a most worthy runner up, leading by example and being not only committed to her role but to the people and teams she is responsible for.”
Jules King WFS Chair and Awards Panel judge said, “Jenni’s passion and caring side leapt off the page. One of Jenni’s leadership strengths is her unflinching commitment to, and visible championing of equality and diversity, through which she has delivered real change.”
Bright Light Award
Kimberley-Jerray Silver (London Fire Brigade) was described as going above and beyond her role as a firefighter working with the elderly in her community. Holding regular open days and tea parties, arranging transport, food, entertainment and helping the older people access services they often don’t realise is available to them. Kimberley was described as “living and breathing” the London Fire Brigade, an incredibly kind person and inspiring role model to everyone she meets.
Jules King said, “Kimberley clearly has an enormous heart; she builds people up and is definitely the bright light in the darkest place for a lot of people. The work she does is way beyond anything that is asked of her. Nothing is ever too much for her.”
Danielle Heathcote (Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service) was selected for two award cateogories. Our Awards Panel said, “Not only is Danielle a worthy winner of this award, she was also runner up in the Bright Light category where her support to others was so positively talked about. This year WFS is using the strapline, ‘If You Can See It, You Can Be It’. Danielle exemplifies this.”
Event Champion Award
Sonja Sinclair-Elechi (Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service) was described by her nominator as working tirelessly to set up and maintain the Critical Incident Support team for many years. “It is a well-oiled and respected service provided to all members of H&W Fire and Rescue Service. In addition to this Sonja has set up a welfare system accessible to everyone—all whilst working full time as a payroll officer.”
Jules King WFS Chair and Awards Panel judge said, “Sonja clearly puts everyone else first. Her passion is simply helping other people and her commitment is outstanding.”
And finally, our Awards Panel gave special recognition to two young people who had
made contributions to voluntary organisations or the wider community.
Matthew Adcock received special recognition for his contribution during the Australian bush-fires. The catastrophic impact of these fires left twelve-year-old Matthew, who is passionate about animals, concerned. He began producing birdhouses (with supervision) and selling them. His homemade creations proved incredibly popular! He’s raised £2,000, which will be donated to animal welfare causes across Australia.
Jules King said, “I am delighted to recognise Matthews contributions, he has been selfless, passionate, and demonstrated a caring nature. He used his practical skills for a really good cause.”
Emma Smith received special recognition for her work to improve systems used by WFS. Emma volunteered her time and skills to help creating a new automated booking form. Her work helped reduced the administration required for our annual training and development event. She also created email signatures to help benefit the promotion of WFS and its aims.
Jules King said, “Emma is worthy of this award as she simply gets involved to help improve ways of working and to come up with solutions to help a voluntary organisation. Emma does this simply because she wants to help WFS, for which I am truly grateful for.”
Our winners and runners-up will be rewarded with accolades from our panel, engraved glass awards, and cash prizes.
If your organisation is interested in supporting future awards through sponsorship please get in touch.