By Aliki Kraterou
There aren’t many fathers who would ask their daughter to run into a burning building – but Fire Crew Commander Mark Andrews expects it of his 20-year-old daughter every day.
Doting dad Mark, 44, from Whitchurch, Herefordshire has been a firefighter for 26 years – and was bowled over when his daughter Shannon, 20, announced she wanted to join the watch in their village.
Shannon joined the crew after passing her initial course and being trained by her dad, who is also an instructor – after years of dressing up in her dad’s firefighter kit when she was a child.
It was only eight hours after her initial breathing apparatus course that her dad sent her into her first house fire.
Even though Shannon, who weighs about 8 1/2 st, describes herself as ‘not a stereotypical firefighter’, she says she loves her job – and especially loves working with her dad.
And the pair have proved a formidable force – working as part of an incredible team to save lives.
Mark said: “I remember one time, just after Shannon had finished her course, she came across a mother and her unresponsive child at the back seat of her car.
“The mother was panicking on the phone to the ambulance, but Shannon found her and immediately called me and the guys from the station, as it was nearby.
“We grabbed the trauma pack and the oxygen and we came over.
“We provided causality care and oxygen therapy until the paramedics arrived and took the child to the hospital.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget we are father and daughter- we are all in uniform, we’ve all got a job to do and we all get on with it, she is just one of the other crew.
Shannon added: “I guess when I helped dad with trauma training, when I was 15, it inspired me to do it.
“As soon as I reached 18 I put in my expression of interest to become an on-call firefighter and I was accepted,”
“It wasn’t a straightforward process though as I’m only little it took a while to build up the strength to pass the physical tests – which is often the case with smaller men and ladies.
“I wasn’t really worried telling my dad, I though he’d be happy.
“I had a lot of encouragement and support from my dad.
“It doesn’t feel weird working with him.
“I love the job, it’s a really good job, very rewarding and it serves the community as well.
“When I tell people what I do, I get a lot of disbelief- I’m young, I don’t look the strongest, I’ll be honest, I don’t look like a stereotypical firefighter but it’s all about technique really.“
The dad-of-three, who has been a firefighter for over 26 years and joined the service in 1992, says he was quite surprised with his daughter’s announcement but was happy that she has proved herself and always encourages others to join the brigade.
He added: “Although Shannon always loved dressing up in my firefighter helmet and uniform, I never seriously thought she would follow my steps.
“It was a complete shock when one day she turned around and said she wanted to join.
“She helped me out on sessions before by being my casualty – that really gave her the idea to go ahead and do it.
“I was really happy, I felt quite proud, it was a really nice moment when she joined because we are only a local community, there is not a massive amount of people living where we do so recruiting is quite difficult.
“It’s nice for me to be able to share my experiences because when you come home after a fire call and you talk to your family, they don’t really get what you’ve been through or where you’ve gone to but Shannon is re-living it- she is living what I went through at her age and for me it’s really nice to see her going through the same thing.
“And it connects us as well because we share experiences.
“When Shannon was doing her initial course I supported her, and then when she did the breathing apparatus course I was instructing for the whole course, which was great because I got to see her developing her skills and how she learnt.
“I remember looking over my shoulder watching her preparing her BA set and it reminded me of myself all those years ago – the adrenaline and nervousness all combined into one.
“It was a privilege to pass on the skills and knowledge to the next generation of firefighters.
“In terms of being nervous about her going into these incidents, you can’t know what it’ll be like, you can’t second guess everything, there is always a risk so there is always apprehension as a father seeing your daughter inside.
“Where we live, we can see the fire station and obviously when I used to respond to my alerter, she’d be looking at the window watching whereas now it’s a different case, it’s the case to get dressed and jump in the same car.
“I absolutely trust her skills – as she’s only been in 18 months she’s still in a development role with much still to learn and obviously doesn’t go alone to situations, we all work as a team. At the moment she is going as number two, along with an experienced team leader.
“It’s getting increasingly difficult to recruit, a lot of people don’t realise they can do the job, everybody has the impression that firefighting is a man’s job and it’s not.
“Shannon is the perfect example, she’s quite slim and she hasn’t got a massive amount of strength but with training and techniques she was able to develop that.
“It’s definitely a big bonus to go to work and get to spend the day with my daughter too.”