Britain’s first woman firefighter will be sharing her extraordinary story at libraries across Suffolk in the coming months.
Josephine Reynolds’ recently published book, Fire Woman, tells of her inspirational story as the country’s only woman firefighter, working for the Norfolk Fire Service in Thetford in the early 1980s.
Inspired by the ‘super hero’ actions of firemen at her family home five years earlier, when 17-year-old Jo saw a Junior Firemen advert in 1982, she decided to apply.
She said: “I so desperately needed a job, it was really hard back then, and my house had burned down when I was 12 years old – they came in, super hero style, and I think it stayed with me from that. The advert came up completely by chance, I didn’t dream I’d get through.”
After passing the physicals and interviews needed to be accepted, Jo had to undergo 15 months of training, a time she remembers as being particularly tough.
“I had to work particularly hard on my training to prove that I could do it, especially with my upper body strength, so that was quite testing.
“And it wasn’t very PC in those early 80s – a lot of things that were said then you’d never say now,” she recalls.
Jo, now aged 52, spent four years as a firefighter in Thetford before leaving to embark on a worldwide adventure.
The incidents she attended included forest fires, road traffic accidents, chemical spills and even one escaped monkey which Kilverstone Zoo named Josephine in honour of the role she played in its capture.
“I loved it, actually – the training was really tough but the job itself was wonderful. It was the best job in the world because you have such great camaraderie,” said Jo.
Unaware, at first, of her place as the country’s first fire woman, it was the press attention she received at the start and end of her training, and after she obtained an HGV licence allowing her to drive fire engines, that brought it to her attention.
“Other people say I’m inspirational but you know what it’s like when you’re just doing your job, you don’t really think of stuff like that,” she said, adding that a lot of girls had written to her since her book’s publication in April.
“I wrote Fire Woman to tell my story in the hope of inspiring girls and women to consider the fire service as a career as even today 96 per cent of fire service staff are male.
“I’m looking forward to visiting Suffolk and sharing my story,” she added.
Jo will share her story and sign copies of her book when she visits Brandon Library at 10.30am on June 19, Clare Library at 6.30pm on July 6, Sudbury Library at 7pm on July 12 and Newmarket Library at 10.30am on November 9.
All the events are free to attend and copies of Fire Woman will be available to buy on the night.