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Trailblazer Samantha still burning bright

ROLE MODEL: Samantha Samuels

AS TRAILBLAZERS go firefighter Samantha Samuels has been both a pioneer and a poster girl with West Midlands Fire Service since joining more than 23 years ago.

She made headlines as the first black female to join the West Midlands brigade in 1990 – at the time being one of only three full-time women firefighters.

The dedicated firewoman was still in her teens when her face became a familiar sight on the side of buses in an advert encouraging people to install smoke alarms.

And after completing 15 years of service, she has appeared again in a campaign, this time to recruit more women, particularly those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

AMBITIOUS

The ambitious Samantha, who turns 40 this year, now hopes to achieve officer status within the service where she began her career as a 16-year-old junior firefighter.

“At first it was very challenging being in a man’s world and I didn’t have the confidence,” says Samantha, who is based with the White Watch crew at Wolverhampton Fire Station on Merridale Street.

“I worried about not being able to do the job and was concerned at first that my role was some kind of token gesture. As a woman a lot more is expected of you and the physical side can be gruelling initially, but you can choose to overcome obstacles rather than simply giving up. You have to prove yourself, but through that you earn respect.

“There were tough times when I felt like giving up and that’s when you rely on family, friends and colleagues to get you through, but experience gives you confidence. Now I wouldn’t change my career for the world and I want to encourage other young women to give the fire service serious consideration,” she added.

Samantha, whose older brother Leonard is also a fire-fighter, added with a smile: “I think many girls still think it’s a man’s job, but it’s not. You need to go into it with an open mind. I tell girls that you can still have your nails done and go shopping for handbags.”

However, female firefighters from an African Caribbean background remain a rarity in the service – as currently only around 30 are black out of an approximate 500 women in the UK.

SECONDMENT

Samantha worked with Green Watch for 14 years when she first started at Wolverhampton, before taking a seven-year secondment with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). She was a union rep dealing with cases involving black and ethnic minority members across the UK, and returned to Wolverhampton fire station two years ago.

“I feel there’s still a lot more for me to do within the service. I was a pioneer when I joined, but I don’t want to become complacent. There are things I can do if I become an officer that I can’t currently do on the ground,” said Samantha, whose mum Ivy and late dad Aphelton, hailed from Hanover in Jamaica.

Earlier this year she was among a group of West Midland firefighters who received long service and good conduct medals for 20 years’ exemplary service.

A Royal Warrant sets out the conditions under which the medals may be awarded to uniformed personnel. It states: “The awarding of this medal indicates the high esteem in which the recipient is held by the authorities and the public, and expresses their gratitude for honourable service and devotion to duty.”

Tony Bucknall, White Watch Commander at Wolverhamp-ton, said: “Samantha has only been back here a short time following her union work, but she has already made a massive impact on the watch.

“She’s incredibly hard working, conscientious and an outstanding role model, both as a firefighter and within the community. She certainly has the ability to become an outstanding officer and is a pleasure to have on the watch.”

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