Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's first female firefighter calls time on career after 27 years of saving lives

By Cate McCurry

Trailblazer firefighter Heather Smart, who was the first female firefighter in Northern Ireland, is hanging up her helmet for good after breaking into a "male-dominated" workplace.

The Ballyclare woman has saved countless lives during her 27 years of service.

Ms Smart (52) overcame many challenges as the first female firefighter.

She also helped pave the way for the 64 women who currently work as firefighters in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).

It has been a momentous career for the dedicated firefighter, although reflecting on her service she admitted she didn't consider herself "special".

"I was just keen to prove that I could do the job that I had set my heart on," she said.

Ms Smart grew up admiring women during the Second World War who took up manual labour and dangerous jobs that had previously been thought of men's jobs, including women who joined the Auxiliary Fire Service.

"It was hardly surprising that I set my heart on what was considered, at that time, the ultimate man's job," she added.

"When I joined what was the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade in 1991, I was looking for a job that would challenge me, one that promised to be different every day and which required physical activity.

"Growing up, my parents never set any limits on what I or my two sisters could do - but I do think that they were a little surprised by my choice of career.

"The support and friendship from my fellow recruits definitely made things much easier - and it's been lovely to see so many of them go on to forge very successful careers within the fire service.

"The physical aspect of the job wasn't an issue for me, but there was a different culture in those days."

"Some people were more accepting than others of a female firefighter."

Heather, who has helped out in recent recruitment drives, said that it was "great" to see an increase in the number of women joining.

She added: "I would like to say a special thank you to Arthur Plumpton, who was my first station officer.

"He was scrupulously fair and treated me no differently to my male colleagues.

"He was very accepting of having a woman in the watch and I could not have had a better start to my career.

"The most satisfactory aspect of the job for me was the feeling of a job well done, that I had helped someone in need."

Belfast Telegraph


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