Inspirational Woman: Alison Kibblewhite | Assistant Chief Fire Officer, South Wales Fire & Rescue Service

ALISON KIBBLEWHITEAlison is from Cardiff and when she left school to work in the banking industry, she knew she wanted something a bit more exciting.

One day her brother came home with an application form and not to be left out she applied too! She joined South Glamorgan Fire Service in January 1995 and became an immediate trailblazer. She was the first full time female Firefighter and rose to the rank of Firefighter to Area Commander, Head of Operations for South Wales Fire & Rescue Service. She is married to Mark and has a daughter, stepdaughter and stepson who is following in the family firefighting footsteps. She is an extremely proud grandmother of seven grandchildren and hopeful that one of them will join the next generation of Firefighters.

As an all-female team of firefighters from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service (SWFRS) and London Fire Brigade (LFB), they intend to be the first emergency service team to use muscle power alone to ski coast to coast across Antarctica on a route that has never been done by an all-female team before.

The challenge will take place in late 2023 with three years of specialist training and preparation required. In order to achieve their goals safely, the Fire Angels need to raise funds to secure vital equipment, satelitte communications, flights, medical cover and much more.

The Fire Angels hope to smash stereotypical barriers and inspire the next generation. The team hope the expedition will have a positive impact on future recruitment, so others can benefit from the rewarding career, as they have.

They are also looking to raise awareness of the impact of mental health on firefighters, who are often seen or portrayed as strong individuals who are impermeable to tragedy and able to cope with every situation. The Fire Angels want to highlight that emergency service workers are affected by mental health too.

To make this challenge a reality, the Fire Angels need to a raise a total of £500,000, whilst also seeking to raise vital funds for key charities such as The Firefighters Charity and The Fawcett Society. They are looking for inspirational sponsors to join them on their journey!

If you would like to sponsor the Fire Angels or have any questions, then please contact them via email: [email protected].

You can also connect with them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and help spread the message.

The Fire Angels are also raising money via their GoFundMe page here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/antarctic-fire-angels

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and current role

I am Alison Kibblewhite and I am currently an Assistant Chief Fire Officer for South Wales Fire & Rescue Service. I am responsible for Service delivery which includes all the fire stations, community safety, business fire safety and fire control.

I was the first wholetime female firefighter in Wales and started 25 years ago. I am married to Mark and we have three children and seven grandchildren between us. I am also very proud to be an Antarctic Fire Angel and we are training for our expedition in 2023.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Well no in the sense that I worked for a bank for 9 years when I left school and never considered being a firefighter until my brother applied and he got me an application form. But once I started I took all the exams and progressed quite quickly through the ranks. So once I became a leading firefighter I then thought about how I could progress further. This included working on station for 9 years to get a really good grounding in the skills I needed, riding in charge of a fire engine, managing a watch and running a station. I also worked for a while in business fire safety and community safety and planned my progression in other areas of the organisation. I the managed a group of fire stations and worked in the planning arena where I was lucky enough to be the Silver Fire Commander for the Olympic Torch Relay and Olympic events in Wales in 2012. I have also been the Gold Fire Commander for the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

 Overcoming some of the prejudices when I first joined but once I worked with people and they could see I could do all aspects of the job to the same standard that quickly went away. Also there was very little in the way of uniform for women and facilities on station so I had to ask for these things.

What has been my biggest achievement to date?

I think becoming the Area Manager in charge of Operations in my Service. It is the most challenging yet rewarding job working with 47 fire stations and 1600 firefighters who do an amazing job every in difficult circumstances. Secondly running my first marathon at the age of 49 after 4 knee operations.

What is the one thing you believe has been a major factor in achieving your success?

Remembering where I started as a firefighter and being able to understand and empathise with them. And being humble and grateful for the great people that I work with.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think that there is a definite benefit in mentoring and it can be a useful tool for both the mentor and the mentee. It’s something that doesn’t require too many qualifications and can be guided through experience. I think it is useful to challenge some people’s perceptions and opinions and develop their thinking in different ways without doing the work for them. I have mentored several people and I always learn from them as well. I have never been formally mentored but I do have a network of people that I go to for advice, challenge and sense checking. These include people working in different arenas. These are people I trust implicitly.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for gender equality, what would it be?

It would be that the press and media start to portray traditionally male dominated roles in a more gender neutral way. It drives me mad when they refer to Firemen or Fireman and it’s always male firefighters in adverts and programmes. Girls and women need to be identifiable in these roles continuing the stereotypical imaging.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Grasp every opportunity to try something new of different. What seems difficult at first will become easier.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

So I am one of a team of six female firefighters crossing the Antarctic in 2023. We are covering a route of 1900km and hoping to cross it in 70 days. We will be unsupported and pulling sleds of 85kg and more. Training is underway and we are shortly off to Scotland cross country skiing. Our aim is to raise the profile of women as firefighters, empower other to set themselves challenges, promote the importance of mental health and the effects of PTSD and take part in research on the female body and how it copes with extremes. Oh and I am going to run an ultramarathon.

The Fire Angels
The Fire Angels

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