Anniversary cards and messages for Spalding firefighter Petra Barneveld-Taylor (38) should be in abundance this month, four years after first joining Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue.
In fact, the Tenerife-born, Dutch national computer science graduate has more than 11 years of experience in tackling house fires, road crashes, floods and training exercises, having started her career at London Fire Brigade in 2000.
Petra’s love of nature and people were two of the significant factors when a friend suggested to her that life as a firefighter was her “calling”.
“I grew up in Tenerife with Dutch parents, although I’ve never lived in Holland,” Petra said.
“My education was at an English school in Tenerife, then I begged my parents to be allowed to study in the UK and I moved here in 1996.
“I went to Kent University and completed a degree in computer science, but I wasn’t sure what to do next.
I love this job and I enjoy being in the thick of it, going into buildings and putting out fires or cutting cars open to release casualtiesPetra Barneveld-Taylor, Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, Spalding Fire Station
“A friend said ‘you like the outdoors and you’re quite adventurous, so why don’t you consider firefighting?’
“I went to a careers fair in London and then an open day for women and ethnic minorities which was a positive experience.”
Petra moved to America in 2008 and came back wanting more of the firefighter’s life, which she had missed.
After a couple of unsuccessful job applications, Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue gave Petra a chance to restart her firefighting career.
She said: “Every time you’re called out, it’s a unique situation and you do see some stuff for which counselling provisions are in place.
“You’re able to sit down, have a cup of tea and talk it through until you get it out of your system.
“But I love this job and I enjoy being in the thick of it, going into buildings and putting out fires or cutting cars open to release casualties.”
Petra is fully aware that she is in a minority, as just five per cent (1,800) firefighters in England are women, according to Home Office figures published in October 2016.
However, there were none before Josephine Reynolds joined Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service as a 17-year-old in 1982.
Petra said: “As a whole-time (full-time) firefighter, you’re at the station for 11 hours a day and on call for 96 hours before having time off.
“You can fill the day really easily, with equipment maintenance and testing at the beginning of every day.
“We also do a lot of community events, put up smoke alarms for vulnerable people, fire safety talks for children and community groups, safety visits to businessess and road safety events throughout the year.
“Our crew is part of the National Resilience Team and in recent years, we’ve been sent to floods in Somerset, Berkshire and Yorkshire.
“So it’s a huge responsibility to be a trained firefighter but I really think that it’s my calling and I don’t want other women to be discouraged because they think that it’s a job they can’t do.”