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Jess Marques Williams

Jess Marques Williams applied to become an On-Call Firefighter in May/June 2020 and hasn’t looked back since. At 31, her life experiences go far beyond what many of us may have been exposed to and they have shaped her into a remarkable, determined and resilient woman that she is today.

Born in Hong Kong in 1990 Jess spent the first year of her life in Macau, followed by a year in England and then at four years old moved to Spain. It was in Spain where Jess, at aged 8 had to grow up fast. Her mother was taken ill and hospitalised, and over the next few years Jess and her brother experienced a very unsettled homelife.

At 14, Jess met her son’s father and embarked on a difficult relationship, that would test her resilience. Falling pregnant at 15, Jess gave birth to her son, Aquiles. After a short stay in hospital, she and Aquiles relocated 2½ hours away to the safety of a centre for young mums.
In 2010 Jess moved to England, met and married her now husband of 3 years and lives with her 14 year-old son and three step children. She works full time but wanted more; to be more active and to do something more rewarding and something that made a positive difference, but she was unsure what that was. It was whilst driving through Towcester that her husband pointed out the banner on Towcester Fire Station advertising for On-Call Firefighters, saying; “You’re strong, you could do that!”

Here, Jess shares the start of her journey with Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service, she talks about the challenges she has faced and the support she has received.

What did you think when your husband first pointed out the On-Call recruitment banner?

Being a firefighter hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’m quite a petite woman and had low self-confidence, so was not sure I could fulfil the requirements of the role. But I knew that I was capable mentally and the physical side would come. My husband was totally convinced, so I contacted the Station Manager and Watch Manager to find out more. The more I heard, the more interested I became and the crew and managers I spoke with at Towcester were so welcoming and encouraging. I attended drill nights and did my research and decided to apply.

How is the On-Call training going so far?

I’m not going to lie, it’s been tough and I have questioned my ability to do the job. In fact at the end of the first day of training I burst into tears and when questioned by our instructor, I said that I felt I was holding everyone up by being much slower. I was told that that was not the case and that my confidence would grow as I progressed.

All the other trainees were men and it felt a bit intimidating, but we were all treated the same, regardless of gender, age, size or background. The instructors pushed us all with a positivity that made me realise that I could do this. It was intense with the practical training during the day and theory each evening, but the team I train with are hugely supportive, as are the instructors.
I’ve now passed the basic skills and RTC training, then in July it’s BA training at Chelveston. This is going to be hard, but I plan on pushing myself physically to ensure that I’m ready.

So how have you improved your physicality and how will you prepare for July?

I’m a pretty active person anyway and go regularly to the gym, well when I could. During lockdown I exercised at home and started running. I had a personal trainer at the gym to help me push myself and improve my fitness levels. The weights got heavier and the training got so intense, to the point of being sick, but I could feel myself getting stronger. I have also been doing pole fitness for a few years. This has really improved my core strength and I have made some of my closest friendships at these sessions.

I know I need to be in top shape before July, so the training will pick up over the next few months. I am strong now, but I am fully aware that I need to be stronger.

It’s a big commitment being an On-Call firefighter, how have you managed your day job, a family life and all the requirements of the role so far?

When you first apply, you need to provide your availability and you need to be realistic about what you can offer and stick to it as much as possible. I work from 7am until 3pm Monday to Friday and then I sign on as available overnight and at weekends. My family are incredibly supportive. My husband is around when I’m not at home and during the school holidays my son stays with my mum.

I’ve just completed my first weekend as available and had 4 Shouts. You literally have to drop everything and be at the station in 8 minutes, which can be quite challenging even though I live quite close to the fire station. But I know it’s what I’ve signed up for and what I want to do.

How do you feel when you are sat on the fire appliance on route to an incident?

When your pager goes off you don’t know what you are going to and often it’s not until you are on route in the fire appliance that you start to find out the detail. The adrenaline kicks in but when you put your kit on it gives you a sense of focus.

I was angry growing up and trusted very few people, but the training we are getting is really embedding a team spirit and helping me to trust people again. We work as a team with one objective. We support each other and play on each other’s strengths. I feel a sense of pride that I am able to make a difference in our community and I know that as I got through the challenges I faced growing up, I can get through anything.

So what are your aspirations for the next few months and years in relation to the fire service?

Well, at the moment, I just can’t wait until the day I am fully competent and become a Developed Trainee. Obviously, training doesn’t stop there, but I will have gained all the skills needed to be an active and confident member of the fire service. Would I apply for a wholetime position? I would have to undergo the full recruitment process again, but it is a possibility. I did wonder if being a woman would be detrimental to my application, but I can see that having a diverse crew brings with it multiple advantages.

I can feel my confidence growing as we progress through the training. I am finding my voice and feel able to take control of situations. We were pushed hard initially to test our commitment but that just made me even more determined to succeed and do the best job I can for my community, my colleagues and for myself.

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