THE newest addition to south Cumbria’s fire and rescue services has been making headlines before she even started.

Suzanne Walker, who works as a teacher at John Ruskin School, made history this year when she became the first ever female member to join Coniston firefighting crew.

She became part of its on-call team at the end of last month, after having completed her basic training for the service along with Mike Tomes, who also works as a teacher in Coniston.

The two are now fully-operational firefighters. When their ‘day jobs’ and other commitments are over and done with, they will be called out to tackle blazes as well as other rescue situations across the south of the county.

Shortly after qualifying for her new role, Mrs Walker told The Westmorland Gazette: “I’d been thinking about joining the firefighting service for a few years, but had always put it off as I was raising two kids, which took up most of my time along with work.

“I also wanted to give something back to Coniston, so it seemed like the right moment to finally get involved.”

In order to be admitted into the fold, Mrs Walker was required to pass a series of challenging tests.

She first needed to achieve a bleep test level of 8.8. A grip test and ladder lift tests - the latter requiring her to bench press a ladder 10 times - were also part of the training process.

For a PE teacher, these may not seem like especially challenging hoops to jump through.

But there was more to come over the course of the fortnight-long training process.

Any fear of heights Mrs Walker may have had were also also put to the test with a ‘leg lock drill’ - which required her to fix her lower body to the fixed ladder and then to lean back, maintaining her balance and composure all the while.

The most gruelling rounds of the training set-up saw Mrs Walker carry a 25kg barbell for 100 metres - a “killer, killer test,” in her own words.

But it was not all hardship, she reveals.

Mrs Walker says that the simulated experiences of dealing with and extinguishing hot fires “was actually a lot of fun - surprisingly.”

“Luckily, the school and the school’s governess were really supportive - they even let me take two weeks off work to complete the training.”

But having to tackle a blaze or carry out a rescue in real life is quite a different undertaking.

“I told myself that, when I first got my pager, I would run through my head what I would do when it went off.

"But all of that goes out of the window when it happens.

“It was a sheer adrenaline rush with a slight bit of panic, the first time my pager went off. And a mad dash to the station.

“But once I was on the job alongside a very experienced crew, there was a sense of calm and control.

“And then,” she says, “the excitement kicked in.”

Mrs Walker says her first call-out, which took place in the last week, was ‘memorable.’

She said the team was alerted to an incident in Grizedale last Wednesday by "an automatic fire alarm going off at a property, with no response from the people inside.

“An alternative means of entry had to be made with minimal damage to the property."

Mrs Walker said that entry was gained by squeezing through a dog flap at the rear of the property.

“I always said my petite frame would come in handy one day, and it did!”

The Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service continues to be on the lookout for new recruits, like Mrs Walker, to join its on-call service.

Those interested are advised to keep an eye out for a number of upcoming drop-in sessions and can apply by visiting: