Cambridgeshire firefighter mixes with paralympians and presidents

A firefighter from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service has returned from her 'amazing experience' working as a volunteer at the Paralympics in Rio where she mixed with presidents and international paralympians.

Amy Ratcliff, 28, who works as a wholetime firefighter at the Dogsthorpe Fire Station in Peterborough, spent two weeks volunteering as a 'Rio Soul' - the Brazilian equivalent to the Games Makers who volunteered at London's 2012 games.

Part of her role was working in the transport team, supplying cars to athletes from the various International teams.

Amy's office was opposite the Athlete's Village so once in Rio she volunteered to work inside the village, checking the accreditations of everyone entering.

She said: "I met several presidents from various countries and would have said hello to them as I scanned them in, but I didn't have a chance to chat as there were so many people coming through.

"I didn't recognise them as such because they were from countries I didn't know but obviously as part of the role you are talking to a lot of people who are really influential and you don't realise it at the time because you are at work and it's so busy." 

Whilst in Rio, Amy met the parents of fifteen-year-old Paralympian Ellie Robinson, who won a gold medal in the women's S6 50m butterfly and a bronze in the women's S6 100m freestyle final.

Amy added: "I got tickets to the Channel 4 show, The Last Leg Live In Rio, which was hosted by three comedians who would report on the day's events. I met Ellie's parents in the audience and asked if they were volunteers and they started telling me about Ellie.

"Being on the set was a real highlight for me. I was sat behind several GB athletes who had won medals in para-fencing and para-canoeing as well as being up close to comedians Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe, Alex Brooker, Katherine Ryan and actor RJ Mitte from Breaking Bad."

Other highlights from her trip included getting a ticket to the rehearsal of the opening ceremony, which included Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham, an extreme wheelchair athlete, doing a stunt flip in his wheelchair.

She saw an evening of athletics and watched, from Team GB, Richard Whitehead win gold and David Henson win Bronze in the same 200m race and also watched Team GB play Canada in murderball (wheelchair rugby).

Amy also got to meet some Brazilian firefighters inside the Athlete's Village and look around their engine.

"Some of the equipment is exactly the same but some of it isn't as advanced as ours but a lot of it is quite similar," she said.

Amy, who lives in Kings Lynn in Norfolk, has been a firefighter in the Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service for just over a year.

She first applied to be a volunteer at the Rio Paralympics back in 2014 and had to go through a lengthy selection process with an initial application followed by an online interview and language test.

Amy, who worked in community education and for various charities before becoming a firefighter, first learnt Spanish as an evening class shortly before volunteering with Raleigh International. She lived in Central America for several months, developing her Spanish whilst working on various community and environmental projects.

The Dogsthorpe firefighter did have a few days off whilst in Rio and went to some of the more famous tourist sites - the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, the waterfalls at Foz do Iguacu and Copacabana Beach.

Speaking about her time in Rio, Amy said: "It was definitely an amazing experience. Even though it cost me quite a lot of money it was still really worth it."

Amy is now hoping to apply to be a volunteer in the 2020 Tokyo Games.