Army spouse Sophie Hodgson had always wanted to help people but could never put her finger on precisely how. That changed when she turned up the heat on her interest to join the fire service.
“You can’t apply again for at least 12 months, so I waited, built up my strength and hoped they would run another recruitment drive. I applied again but failed the fitness tests that time too.”
Sophie was devastated but life had also changed and she put her dream on hold to move into her first quarter in London as an army spouse. The following year she became a mother to baby Hugo.
“We then moved three times over the next two years and ended up in Worthy Down,” she explains.
“I noticed our local station was recruiting for on-call firefighters, so I jumped at the opportunity. This time I passed the physical tests and was ecstatic – something I had worked for for so long had finally happened out of pure determination.”
Sophie went on to complete her inaugural course and was then ready to ride as a firefighter with her new crew at Sutton Scotney.
“I cannot begin to describe the feeling of my first call,” she adds. “A deer in the headlights springs to mind. My watch manager said get on the truck. I was petrified as I had no idea what I would experience in the coming minutes. Adrenaline was in full force, something I had never felt before. I dropped all my in the back of the truck – lesson learnt quickly! From automatic fire alarms to a road traffic collision, I became part of the team straight away and have a bond that’s like no other. They’re my brothers I never had.”
Being part of a team
Sophie believes that she brings something a little different to her watch: “Not because I am the only female but because my personality and drive brings a different approach and willingness to always develop. Male or female, we are firefighters and one team. I don’t arrive at the station thinking I’m the girl – it never crosses my mind.”
As well as fire calls, Sophie has worked at Winchester Have a Go, which invites potential firefighters to do just that and have a go at some of the tests they would need to pass to become a firefighter.
“I attend training, drill nights and make ‘safe & well’ visits to those in the community who are more vulnerable,” explains Sophie.
“It’s tough some weeks when my husband is working late but I’ve always managed to do my minimum cover. Most nights I can be on-call as my husband is there with our son and I just run out the door when the alert goes off, trying not to wake anyone else in the house.”
Juggling her role with army life, a full-time job and a two-year-old son can be tough but Sophie believes it’s worth it.
“The feeling of running into the station, throwing my kit on the truck and heading out of those doors is just so fulfilling, not knowing where we are going or who needs our help,” she says.
“I cannot recommend it enough. It’s really simple to get involved and many counties are looking for on-call firefighters. You don’t need previous experience as you’ll get full training, but you do need a good level of strength and fitness.”
Due to a posting, Sophie’s time at Sutton Scotney is coming to an end but she’s determined to carry on in the fire service in the future.
“As a military wife, it’s sometimes hard when it comes to employment, but change can mean opportunity and for me, this has resulted in me launching my own business,” she concludes.
“However, my long-term goal is still to become a full-time firefighter one day and I will pursue this no matter how long it takes.”
If you know a person with a military connection who works hard to improve your local community, tell us about them – email firstname.lastname@example.org and read more stories on this website.
As our summer community champion, Sophie wins a signed print from The War Poppy Collection by artist Jacqueline Hurley of POSH Original Art. Jacqueline’s collection is her personal thank you and tribute to our armed forces, veterans and their families; and a commemoration of those who have fallen or been injured in past campaigns. She paints to evoke emotion, reflection and remembrance in her unique and expressive style. To view the collection, visit poshoriginalart.co.uk