Wales

Firefighters to try first all-women Antarctic crossing

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Media captionThe Antarctic Fire Angels is the first all-women team to embark on the 1,180 mile route

They call themselves the Antarctic Fire Angels and are preparing for the most gruelling challenge of their lives.

Three firefighters from south Wales and three from London will take on a 70-day trek across Antarctica on a route never completed by an all-women team before.

They said they wanted to do something historic - to show what women are capable of and to empower the next generation of firefighters.

The 1,180 mile (1,900km) expedition is due to take place in 2023.

Who are the Antarctic Fire Angels?

Image copyright Fire Angels
Image caption The team hopes to get people talking about mental health after their own experiences of dealing with trauma in the job

"It's going to go down in history, I think," said Nakita Ross, team leader and the inspiration behind Antarctic Fire Angels.

Based at Battersea Fire Station in London, she has attended some devastating incidents in recent years, including the Croydon tram crash and the Grenfell Tower fire.

"For both incidents, I went at a time when unfortunately, there were no lives to be saved," Ms Ross said.

"But still, it had a major effect on me. Not only that, I'm very aware of how it affected my work colleagues and I'm incredibly proud of my London firefighters, of how they've responded and how they're tackling their mental health."

Because of those experiences, Ms Ross felt compelled to do something inspirational: "I want people to come away from this thinking 'it's OK to not be OK.' People need to be able to feel that it's OK to talk.

"We hope to show people that if you put your mind to it and you have the best team behind you, you can achieve anything."

Image copyright Fire Angels
Image caption Georgina Gilbert says there is an "awful lot" to do to prepare for the expedition

Georgina Gilbert, a firefighter with 20 years of experience, is based in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan.

"We're going be trekking 1,900kms towing 85kg sleds with all our equipment. That's tent, food, the lot," said Ms Gilbert, who has competed as a tri-athlete for Great Britain.

Although the expedition is not for three years, the preparations start now as the group work on their fitness, endurance and ability to tolerate the cold.

"February is the first skiing trip to Scotland, then Norway the following November for two, maybe three weeks," she said.

Ms Gilbert said the group could also train in Sweden or Canada next year, where they will practice crevasse rescues and first aid in extreme environments.

"I'm really excited, but there's an element of trepidation. There's an awful lot to do," she added.

Image copyright Fire Angels
Image caption Being a firefighter is "the best job in the world", says Beci Newton

Mum-of-two Beci Newton, watch manager at Caerphilly Fire Station, lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service has helped her deal with it, but Ms Newton said taking part in the expedition was a vital part of her healing process.

"I love the idea of a team challenge, of being part of a team," she said.

"I have had some difficulties in the last two years and for me it was about taking ownership of myself again.

"The first time I sat on a fire engine I was terrified. The first time I drove one, I was beyond terrified.

"So I think when I land and I'm there and I look out to the horizon and think 'you've got to be there at some point', that's going to be pretty terrifying. But one foot in front of the other and you'll get there."

Image copyright Fire Angels
Image caption Alison Kibblewhite was the first full-time female firefighter in Wales

Alison Kibblewhite, who was the first full-time female firefighter in Wales when she joined as a trainee in 1995, is head of operations at South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

"I feel apprehensive, but also optimistic about it as well," said Ms Kibblewhite, who runs marathons in her spare time.

"The biggest thing for all of us is leaving behind loved ones and family. Potentially, we're going to be away three months.

"It's going to be over Christmas time, so I think the emotional side will be the most difficult rather than the physical.

"I have seven grandchildren and I want to inspire them that whatever they dream about, don't be put off, go for it. Break down some of the boundaries."

Image copyright Fire Angels
Image caption London firefighter Rebecca Rowe, pictured left, is a former Welsh rugby international and GB rower

Joining them will be two of Ms Ross' colleagues from the London Fire Brigade, former Wales rugby international and Great Britain rower Rebecca Rowe, and rope rescue expert, boxer and personal trainer Nikki Upton.

Ms Ross added: "We're all women from ordinary backgrounds and we're coming forward to do extraordinary things."

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