Firefighter Jo Shippey

Fitness fanatic Jo, completed a degree in leisure management and went into what she thought was the best industry for her. But after going travelling and working in leisure she realised she wanted something more and after seeing an advert for the fire service, went along to a Have a Go Day in Ely. The rest, as they say, is history.

She says: "Boys grow up thinking about being a firefighter - I guess it's traditionally quite a macho thing but I'd never really thought about firefighting until I saw an advertisement in the paper for the event at Ely."

Jo went for the job and got it. She enjoyed the training but there were elements she struggled with. Jo explains: "As a woman, you can't get away with not doing any strength training or going to the gym.

"I found 13.5m ladder pitching difficult at the start and practising it daily did take its toll, but you do it time and time again and eventually get used to it.

"You have to keep in shape and if you don't, you really notice it. However, all the cardio work is a breeze to me and when you work as a crew everyone steps up to the mark."

Joining the watch in Cambridge was good fun for Jo and despite being the only woman on the watch, she never saw herself as one woman working in a team of men. Jo comments: "When I first started in the brigade there were people who weren't that keen on women becoming firefighters and you did have to prove yourself. But then any new recruit has to prove themselves and show they're up to the job. I didn't see it as any different.

"My strength I think is talking with people. Whether it's a pensioner or a school kid, I quite like chatting with people and I think I put them at ease, which I think can be of great benefit to the team.

"I get into small spaces, like slipping through a window, or into small spaces in cars at a road traffic collisions, so often end up finding myself nestled into a squashed car to support a casualty.

"The brilliant thing about working in a crew is you don't have to be amazing at everything. There are things that people are naturally better at, so you play to your strengths and others support your weaknesses.

"We all have different roles on the watch as well and I think as a girl, I become a natural confident for the guys, which is nice."

As a firefighter, for Jo, the best part of the job is still getting her hands dirty. Jo explains: "I really like a good working job where someone needs your help. At road traffic collisions especially, you can see what you're doing is having an impact and helping someone. Everyone is working as a team at these jobs and knows what to do to get the casualty out.

"It's that feeling afterwards. When the outcome is successful, the atmosphere changes and spirits are high. It's a great feeling to know that we've done our best and we always take that away with us."

With a higher education behind her, Jo said there are times when she can pull on her strengths in researching and working on the computer to help others on the watch.

Jo concludes: "Any management degree could help you progress as a manager in the fire service. But you learn a lot about yourself at university and having that background has definitely contributed to the person I am now.

"I love being a firefighter and I'm so lucky because I love coming to work every day, which makes my friends jealous. Don't let anything be a barrier if you want to be a firefighter, just do it."