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Jodie meets Dany Cotton
Senior Firefighter

Jodie meets Dany Cotton | Kidspiration

If someone says you can’t do something, do you say OK and quit? Or does being told “no” make you want to work even harder to do what everyone says you can’t?

In 1987, when Dany Cotton was 18, she saw a newspaper advertisement for the London Fire Brigade. The Brigade wanted to recruit women and minority Londoners to become firefighters. Could a girl be a fireman? “Everyone thought I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she told Prospect.org, “and that it was not a job for a woman, but this just spurred me on.”

That year, there were about 6,000 male London firefighters and 30 women. Learning to do the job wasn’t easy. Some of her fellow firefighters were suspicious or nasty or both. Several men at her first post transferred out and her supervisor said he didn’t think she should be there. Then three months into the job, she was on a team of firefighters who responded to a terrible train crash. Nineteen-year-old Dany did her job and won the respect of her fellows.

Her firefighting skills were recognized in 1998 when she was the first woman to become a Station Officer. In 2002, she was named Public Servant of the Year; in 2004 she was the first woman to be awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal. And in 2012, she became an Assistant Commissioner.

This year, the London Fire Brigade is 150 years old. In January, Ms. Cotton will become the interim London Fire Commissioner, the first woman in the Brigade’s history to have the position.

She still wants to make sure anyone who is told “no, you can’t do that,” has a chance to try, even though some people still think women shouldn’t be firefighters. But when firefighters arrive at an emergency, she says, nobody asks who they are or where they come from. They are the ones running in where everyone else is running away.

Jodie interviews Dany Cotton, London Fire Brigade firefighter and new interim London Fire Commissioner, at Greenwich Fire Station.



Jodie:
Hey, I’m Jodie and today I’m going to be talking with Dany Cotton. She’s the highest-ranking female fire officer in the UK. She has won so many medals and awards for her bravery. Can’t wait to meet her.

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Jodie:
Hi Dany, please can you tell me who you are and what you do?

Dany:
Yes, my name’s Dany and I’m the Director of Safety and Assurance for London Fire Brigade.

Jodie:
What was it like when you first started?

Dany:
Well, when I first joined, I was only 18, which is really young and when I joined back in 1988, a long time ago, there were very, very few women firefighters. So it was really different, because people re a bit sort of scared of women being on the job and they didn’t know why we were there and there were rumors we were there to spy on people. But it was, you know, really exciting. The training was really hard and it was very unusual to see another woman. So it was a bit odd sort of working with all men, but right from the moment I started, I absolutely loved it.

Jodie:
So when you get called for a real emergency, how long do you have to get in the fire engine? How long does it take?

Dany:
So if the bells went down here now, they’ve got 60 seconds to get from doing whatever they’re doing, whether that’s eating their dinner, whether it’s doing a lecture, whether it’s they’re out in the yard practicing, they’ve got 60 seconds to get to the fire engine, find out where they’re going, and get in and go. Then, they’ve got about five to eight minutes to actually get from here to where the call is.

Jodie:
I find that really hard, because when I get ready for school, it probably takes me, like, two hours to get dressed.

Dany:
Yeah, you definitely don’t have that time. You can’t worry about your hair, your makeup, or anything else. It’s really good in the middle of the night. Everyone gets up and the hair’s sticking up and clothes are on wonky and trying to get your socks on, but no, it’s really important, because obviously, the quicker we get there, the quicker we can be there to help people.

So Jodie, what we’re going to do now is we’re going to go in the aerial level platform. Now, that’s a big fire engine and we use it for rescuing people from things like big tower blocks and high-rise buildings and we can also use it to squirt lots and lots of water, if there’s a big fire. So it’s a really safe piece of equipment. It’s what we use to rescue people. You’re going to get the opportunity to see what it’s like to be a firefighter rescuing someone.

Jodie:
Is it, like, definitely safe?

Dany:
100 percent safe. I wouldn’t get in, if it wasn’t, and I definitely wouldn’t put you in it.

Jodie:
What goes through your mind before you’re about to enter a big emergency?

Dany:
I think once you’re there, you know, you’re thinking about which way in do I go? What am I looking for? Is there anybody in there that I need to help? You know, what water I’m taking with me. You know, and your safety, you’re really concerned, because there’s no point in us being there if we’re not safe, because then we’re not there to help people out. So you’ve got lots of things that go through your mind, but your priority is getting in and searching for people.

Jodie:
What’s the most frightening moment that you experienced?

Dany:
Probably when I was a firefighter. We got called once for a big fire and it was in the big industrial place with lots of cylinders and cylinders are quite really dangerous when they’re in fires. And I went into this big place and there was this really loud bang and I thought one had exploded, so me and my colleague ran out of the building really quickly.

It turned out it was a glass skylight that was above us that had exploded, because of the heat, but we were convinced that was it and everything was going to go bang. But – so that was quite scary. And I think sometimes it’s just when you turn up at a really big fire, although you really want to be there and help people, sometimes going into a fire can be scary.

Jodie:
What gives you the courage to continue?

Dany:
I think just knowing that you can make someone’s day better. You know, even in a small way. So even if you go to a school and you speak to some children and you talk to them about what to do in the event of a fire and then you find out that one of them’s had a fire at home and has managed to get out and get their family out, or you go and see an older person help fit a smoke alarm. You know, all those things just make you feel really good about the job. And then if you actually get to go to a fire and save somebody and put a big fire out, it just makes you want to go on and be the best you can be.

Jodie:
So what advice would you give to younger children? Kids?

Dany:
So I would say that when you’re thinking about a job, if you’re thinking about being outdoors and practical and working in a team, and especially if you like helping people, then the fire service is a great career.

Jodie:
Thank you so much, Dany. I’ve learned so much about your job and it was lovely meeting you. Thank you.

Dany:
It was lovely meeting you, too, thank you.

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Jodie:
That was so fun. The crane made me a little bit scared, but I knew I was in safe hands. Hope you enjoyed meeting Dany. See you next time, bye.