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Meet the heroes in your community: Delight as Ullapool fire station welcomes first female firefighters

As efforts are made to bridge the gap in recruitment of on-call firefighters across rural communities, Ullapool has reason to celebrate after welcoming its first cohort of female firefighters.

Locals Fenella Renwick, Carol Innes, India Poe and Riona MacPherson have all recently signed up to the on-call service at the Wester Ross station.

The woman all have different influences that encouraged them to devote their time, however, all see it as a way of contributing to protecting the community which they live and work in.

Women make up 20% of firefighters at Ullapool station

The station, which operates with 20 members of staff, now has 20% of its workforce that are female.

Previously, no other women had enlisted in Ullapool.

For the four new recruits, family influences, the opportunity to pursue a career they previously doubted and serving their community were among the factors in signing up.

India Poe, Riona MacPherson, back row, Fenella Renwick and Carol Innes, front row.

‘I always wanted to do it’

Mrs Renwick said: “I think from a young age I always knew I wanted to do it.

“I had a family friend whose dad was in the retained and it kind of sparked it for me. Then growing up I always had an interest in doing it but you always kind of put things off.

“I got some support from friends and family and the guys at Ullapool station and they approached and said to come and do it so I kind of finally bit the bullet and did it.

“I think there is always that doubt at the back of your mind that you think that being a woman that you maybe possibly can’t or aren’t physically strong enough to do these things but you do get through it.

“If you are struggling with something, everyone takes the time to help you. To go through the correct procedures to ensure you are doing it safe enough as well.

“Yeah you always have that barrier in the back of your head but you can always overcome it.”

Pontypandy or Ullapool?

For Fenella, co-owner of the famed Seafood Shack, when the pager sounds, her three-year-old son thinks she is off to Pontypandy – the home of Fireman Sam.

Despite only venturing a few miles along the road into the station from her home on the outskirts of Ullapool, she is already reaping the rewards.

She added: “I love everything about it.

“Being the first girls in the station I was worried it might ruffle a few feathers but it’s been the total opposite. And being able to help anyone is a good feeling.”

The quad have already been put through their paces.

Following in the footsteps of father

For Carol Innes, being a firefighter was already engrained in her blood.

Her dad Ewan Innes worked at Nairn fire station for 30 years before he retired.

Carol had even been the cleaner at Ullapool fire station before deciding the time was right to pursue her own career as an active firefighter.

The mother-of-four said: “My dad was a retained firefighter so I kind of always seen that growing up, seen him running out and I thought ‘oh I want to do that’.

“Even the smell was great.

“Life comes, I had children and I then thought ‘right I am ready’.

“I moved to Ullapool and met all the boys there and just thought let’s do this.”

The ladies have attended courses in Invergordon as part of their training.

Intake at Ullapool fire station is ‘fantastic’

The latest recruitment at Ullapool comes as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service seeks to recruit more on-call firefighters into rural and remote communities.

Station commander Ricky Dibble said: “I am delighted.

“It is such a challenge filling our stations but to have the four women step forward in Ullapool is just fantastic.

“It is the first time we have ever had females in Ullapool. The four of them have come in and really dug deep and become part of the crew. They have just integrated so well.

“Females coming into the service, certainly in Highland, has become more and more common now.

“I look after seven stations and within the seven; I have women in five of those. Some of them hold ranks and I have got a couple of them who drive the appliances now.

“Once you are in, it is equal opportunity for everybody.

“The dynamic they bring to the station is just fantastic. It is so beneficial to the stations and it promotes them in the community and makes it accessible for everybody.”

20% of the Ullapool fire station crew are now female.

More encouraged to pursue rewarding career

In order to recruit new talent, the fire service is running pre-engagement programmes to give potential firefighters a flavour of the job and the demands of the commitment required.

However, the service is keen to make the role more open and appealing to all walks of life.

Mr Dibble encourages others to follow in the Ullapool recruits’ footsteps, adding: “It is very rewarding to step up and help your community.”