Release date: 18 December 2020
As one of more than 3,000 applicants for the role of firefighter in 1990, 24-year-old Samantha Evans was one of just five to make the cut.
After passing her initial training she went on to become West Sussex Fire Brigade’s, as it was then, first female wholetime firefighter. This Christmas she will be retiring from West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service having completed 30 years of service across the county.
After being initially posted to White Watch at Horley, she moved to Horsham White Watch four years later. When she had her daughter in 2001 she returned from leave to join Horsham Red Watch where she remained until April 2015 when she moved to Littlehampton White Watch.
At the time, being a female firefighter didn’t strike Sam as being out of the ordinary, despite all of her colleagues being male. “I had previously worked in an all-male environment, so it didn’t come as a shock,” she said. “I didn’t have any issues, and my Sub Officer was brilliant and very forward thinking. I wouldn’t have expected to do anything differently than they would have, and that worked. Obviously there was some work to be done on station, there weren’t any female shower facilities before I joined, but we have come a very long way since then.
“It does help to have a mixed crew with different strengths. I am often the first one pushed into a tight hole or window to help get someone out. But it also helps in every day situations too - perhaps we get mobilised to help with an elderly lady who has had a fall. In that situation I can go in first and help protect her modesty and make the experience that little bit less distressing for her.
“When I first joined I thought I would go for promotions and go up through the ranks – those opportunities were there. But I think when I was on restricted duties when expecting my daughter that I realised I didn’t want to work behind a desk. I wanted to be on that fire engine. Without a shadow of a doubt. That is what I will take away with me, the years of camaraderie, of working with some truly fantastic people. Because being a firefighter and running into a burning building when everyone else is running out is an incredible job to do.”
Looking ahead to her retirement, Sam will be continuing her work as a Samaritan, which she has carried out for two years and is already studying to become a dog behaviourist. She said: “I have done a job that I love for 30 years, and I would like to do another job that I love for many more years to come.”
Chief Fire Officer, Sabrina Cohen Hatton, said: “Sam is a true pioneer for female firefighters and an inspiration to us all. She well and truly found her calling.
“I was incredibly honoured to present Sam with a Lifetime Achievement Award at our fire service awards earlier this year, because her career with West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is something I know that she is incredibly proud of. We as a service are equally proud of her and the work she has carried out to help keep her communities safe.
“She has paved the way for many to follow in her footsteps, and I hope that she does not underestimate the impact of the legacy that she leaves behind.”