Chapel-en-le-Frith pair become first full time father and daughter serving firefighters in Derbyshire
When Rob Mears took a photo of his two-year-old daughter Zoe enjoying a ride in a fire engine on a carousel at the Buxton carnival fairground, he had no idea that 18 years later, she’d be driving the real thing.
On Friday, Zoe passed out after 15 weeks of intensive training to become a wholetime firefighter. And she made history on two counts when she did so.
As well as being the youngest ever LGV driver for Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service aged 20 years and 3 months, Zoe joining her dad Rob in the fire service means the pair have become the first ever full time father and daughter serving firefighters in the county.
But a career in the fire service hadn’t always been on Zoe’s mind.
It was only when she attended a long service award ceremony for dad Rob in 2018 that she began to think of following in his footsteps.
"I realised that being a firefighter is about much more than being a strong man, and ultimately that it was a career,” she said.
"I definitely knew I wanted to do it when I saw a positive action video made in 2018 by a female firefighter called Ceri Gray.
“When I came across the video, it was like a light bulb moment for me, and I instantly realised this is the career I wanted to pursue.
“For years I had seen my dad be a firefighter, and although it was something I was massively interested in, I had never thought it'd be something I could do.
“I see Ceri as a massive role model as she shows other females like me that it is not just a man’s job.”
When Zoe, who lives in Chapel, initially applied to join Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2018, she made it through all the fitness and physical tests but was unsuccessful at the interview stage.
But that didn’t deter her, only serving to make her desire to become a firefighter even stronger.
Rob, 52, said: “The feedback she got was that there were certain skills missing. So she quit her job and took a new job that would give her those skills. She had been an apprentice mechanic at VW and after she completed her apprenticeship she quit and took a different job as a support worker for adults with challenging needs.”
Zoe also attended multiple awareness days, applied for on-call and volunteered at the United Kingdom Rescue Organisation (UKRO) finals. She studied how the fire service works, not just in Derbyshire but across the UK.
And it paid off as Rob, who also lives in Chapel, explained: "It was a two-year journey and she just never stopped. Every single week we’d sit down and talk about what she’d done in the last week. The amount of work and effort she put into it was enormous.”
After all that hard work, Zoe securing her place on the training programme was understandably an emotional and proud moment for Rob, his wife Jill and all the family.
"She had got to the end of a really long hard journey and she had achieved her dream of getting in and then it’s like okay, that chapter’s finished and now we start a new one,” Rob said.
"I’m massively proud. I’ve always been proud to be a firefighter and to be part of the fire service family and welcoming Zoe into that family is just awesome.”
Zoe is just as proud of her dad too.
“My dad is a massive inspiration to me,” she said.
“He has supported me in every way he can and even attended the UKRO volunteering with me to help me gain a greater understanding of some aspects of the role.
“I owe my dad so much and can’t thank him enough for everything he does for me."
Zoe will be based at Ascot Drive station, while Rob is a watch manager in Chesterfield.
Their paths may meet one day on a call out but the next step for Zoe is a further two years of training at her station.
The training doesn’t end there, however, as Rob explained: “We never stop learning or training.
"There’s a really antiquated view of firefighters just sat playing snooker and drinking tea and that is so old. That is not the case.
"We train every single day, we study, we do lectures – what we have to know now is phenomenal.
"But it’s enjoyable. To be in a job that you really enjoy and you’re passionate about is fantastic.”
The very nature of the job means its not without its risks but that is where the fire service family mentality comes to the fore, Rob said.
"I’m very confident in the training Zoe has had and the preparation she has been through and I know she’s ready.
"The risk is at its greatest at operational incidents usually. And that’s when we look out for each other the most. We’re all very aware of our own safety and that of those around us.
"We’re a family and you look after each other, you keep each other safe.”
Rob himself joined the fire service in 1998 after being inspired by some friends who were already serving firefighters.
He was 29 at the time, so Zoe signing up at such a young age is even more impressive to him.
“I think of what she’s achieved and I think back to when I was 20 and I genuinely, genuinely do not think I could have done it at her age."
But the family’s fire service involvement doesn’t end there. Rob says his son Adam is now also planing to join.
"My son has always been fascinated with the fire service and he’s been utterly inspired by what Zoe has done and that’s what he wants to do now,” he said.
"He’s 18, he’s at that age where he can apply so he’s going to be applying in the next recruitment round.
"That would just be incredible as well if Adam was successful. Imagine having both your children following into that career path. It would just be something else.”
Adam is also a talented young boxer, and coaching him has been one of Rob’s proudest achievements.
"One of the biggest things I’ve been able to do in my life is corner for him in a fight. I’ve been the corner man and he’s been boxing which has been a dream.”
Sadly the coronavirus pandemic meant Zoe and her fellow trainees weren’t able to celebrate their achievements in the usual way with a formal passing out ceremony, though Derbyshire’s Chief Fire Officer/Chief Executive Gavin Tomlinson visited the training centre on Friday to wish all the recruits well.
And dad Rob also had some words of advice for his daughter as she embarked on her career.
"I’ve told Zoe that success in the fire service isn’t all about gaining rank and gaining promotion. It’s about doing the best you can every single day, giving yourself to your career and enjoying it.
"We live in a changing world and there's new challenges all the time. We now have to be prepared for terrorist attacks for example and things like that."
Zoe, like her dad, was attracted to the role of a firefighter because it is about so much more than just fighting fires.
“Without sounding like a cliché or being too cheesy, I am looking forward to getting in the station and being able to help people and make a positive impact on someone’s life,” she said.
“Whether that be through prevention work, making places safer before any incidents occur, or if the worst happens and there is in an incident, being able to empathise with people and help them through it.
“I also think that this may be one of the main challenges as well due to it being very emotional."