Our latest feature is about Carina Peel, a Firefighter for Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue. In this blog she shares with us the struggles that she’s faced to become a firefighter, as well as the ongoing issues she faces in her role. Being an openly gay woman in a male dominated industry quite often it’s not just fires that Carina has to fight against.
A bit about me
My name is Carina Peel, I'm 39 years old and I am born and bred in Nottingham. I grew up in a village called Ruddington. I moved out when I was in my 20s. At this point, I also came out as gay. I had always been interested in sport since I was young but unfortunately, food was more interesting and by the age of 15 I was nearly 17 stone.
I attended South Nottingham College and sports. I also lost 6 stone! I qualified as a Sports Therapist in the year 2000 and I was offered a job as an assistant physio for Leicester City Football Club. The professional football industry is cut-throat and when my manager Martin O'Neill left a new manager came in and brought his own team in with him.
I was offered a job to follow him to Celtic but I didn't want to move that far away from home. I join the prison service 2003 and after a couple of years of working in the wings, I moved into the gym. I taught prisoners NVQ Level 1 in sport and Recreation. This job was both rewarding but also challenging.
I worked hard to get my dream job
I had tried a Number of times to get into the fire service but had been knocked back in certain stages of recruitment. It's not an easy industry to get into. There were 3000 applicants for 12 jobs when I applied. Still, only 10% of firefighters are females.
The Recruitment stage takes over a year. There are 6 stages which include physical and written tests. After so many attempts and hard work I was offered a position in South Yorkshire Fire Rescue Service. I completed a 14-week basic training course which was both very physically and mentally challenging. I love my job, not many people can say that they love to go to work.
The job comes with a number of diverse aspects one moment you can be in a school talking to children about fire safety and the next moment you can be entering into a burning building or cutting somebody out of a car wreck.
Unfortunately, you are exposed to different levels of trauma in which you wouldn't be human if you didn't admit that sometimes it gets to you. I am open and honest enough to admit I have suffered mental health due to things that I have been exposed to. I have suffered bouts of anxiety and depression in which have been difficult and dark times of my life. I have had to take time off work and attend counselling to aid my recovery. Mental health is a big issue within the emergency services. It's an area that I am very Passionate about. It's an area that needs a lot more recognition and work but seems to be overlooked.
Barriers I have come up against
When I first started in the fire service 13 years ago it was a very different place. There were not many women, I constantly felt like I had to prove myself to be one of the lads. Before my first shift on my first station, my manager had been down to see my crew to tell them they'll be getting a female and explain to them what kind of things they could and couldn't say.
Straight away this caused an issue for me, people were too scared to even speak to me in fear of saying something wrong. I think they thought that I was going to be some feminist lesbian that was going to walk into the station and start burning my bras in the yard. In time they realise that I wasn't like. I have had a number of individuals who have tried to bully and intimidate me in my career. Some people are intimidated by strong-minded women.
I find those who are intimidated by Strong Women are usually very insecure weak men inside. I dealt with most situations well but everyone has a breaking point. I would never show it to them to their face but when at home alone there times when I would crack. I explain it as like a game of Jenga, people keep pulling break from underneath and putting them back on top of you until eventually somebody pulls out last brick and you collapse.
These negative events are what has pushed me to be more actively involved inequalities. I've turned a negative into a positive and I now work hard to ensure inequalities are high up on the agenda within the fire service.
My role in The Fire Brigades Union
I have been a Fire Brigades union representative now for 6 years. In this time I have held a number of roles including LGBTQ East Midlands representative, Notts fire rescue LGBT representative and assistant secretary. I currently hold the role of fairness and equalities representative for the East Midlands cover Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, and Nottinghamshire.
It's a diverse role but most of the situations I deal with are to do with equality in the industry. I've completed my Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety and my Diploma in Employment Law. I also get involved when required in any harassment, bullying or victimisation investigations. I've also attended a number of courses which are run by the Trades Union Congress which include serious accident investigation and representing people with mental health issues. I am heavily involved in politics and have been seen a number of times waiting to pounce on MPs in the lobby at West minster after PM Questions. I did also make the papers after having a heated argument with Norman Tebbitt after he stated woman shouldn't be firefighters if they have to go through the menopause! I reminded him of the time he had to be rescued by firefighters during the famous Brighton bombings during the Tory conference in 1984. Would he have cared then?
In an ideal world there will be no need for Positive role models in the world as there will be no discrimination or inequality I know we still have a long way to go but while we do I'm happy to be one.
Nottinghamshire Fire & Rescue - Firefighter
The Fire Brigades Union - Equality & Fairness Official East Midlands
If you’re interested by Carina’s story about working as a firefighter, make sure to read out blog about former Deputy Chief Constable Anne Summers.