Gail Read, 56, joined West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) in 2006 as an Administrator. She has held roles as Vulnerable Person Officer and Community Risk Reduction Officer; she now works in Prevention in the Partnerships and Vulnerability Team. Gail attended the Women in the Fire Service National Training and Development Event last June at The Fire Service College.
Reflecting on the impact taking part in last year’s WFS development event had on her, she said: “This was my third time at the event and each time I’ve gained something new from it. It was great to have time out from my busy work and home life to focus on me. Having time to pause and reset at a skills centred event away from the workplace helped with my own wellbeing. I returned to work energised and able to focus better.”
“Drive an Appliance was a great workshop. I’ve worked alongside emergency vehicles for 17 years but never had a chance to drive one before. Following instructions, especially when driving blindfolded, can be quite scary. Unlike Operations, my role isn’t that linear or command and control in style, so focusing on details and relying entirely on my eyes on the ground was new to me. It was a reversal of my normal role where I’m usually setting expectations and giving guidance to teams. A reminder of the value of teamwork.”
Opportunity for friendship
This year Gail attended the WFS development event with her daughter, Beth. She said: “It was really good to be able to show Beth the ropes. I’m quite loud and confident and Beth isn’t, she’s more introverted. She is neurodiverse. I’m not sure she would’ve had the confidence to go alone but she loved it and would feel comfortable going again on her own. She was nervous but off networking and making friends in no time. This made me glad I’d encouraged her to go, as I already knew what a great opportunity it was.”
Beth was inspired to follow in her mother’s footsteps from a young age.
“Beth has been part of the fire family from the start and has seen the varied career paths that the Fire Service has to offer. I used to bring her to work with me occasionally when struggling with childcare and would give her little tasks to do like filing, printing and sorting out faulty smoke alarms. She wouldn’t have had that insight otherwise.”
Although Gail’s role is challenging, she finds it very engaging: “The role I do is interesting even when it’s demanding, so Beth has seen that as something she could aspire to. I am proud of her and what she has overcome and achieved and look forward to seeing her star rise further.”
A second family
Speaking about the benefits of her job, she said: “I hadn’t considered myself a role model. But I guess looking back I was lucky enough to have my own mom who was hammering at the glass ceiling in a male dominated workplace as a role model, ahead of her time in many ways. So Beth is following a line of strong women. I changed from a career of 20 years to join the Fire Service when I divorced Beth’s Dad, as I needed a more flexible and supportive employer. Beth was 9 then and I found what I was looking for at West Midlands Fire Service. As well as a second family I was able to get the right work-life balance. WMFS saw potential in me and I was given plenty of opportunities to develop and progress.”
“I have an additional role as a workplace coach at WMFS, so some of the skills I developed at WFS workshops really helped me with that. I found the workshop on imposter syndrome particularly useful. And the menopause workshop was also beneficial – relevant to me personally but also as a manager. I have already had the opportunity to influence some potential changes to our policies and procedures on this subject.”