I’m Beci Newton. I live with my husband Matt, our two children and our border collie Cariad in Llanbradach, South Wales. I’m a crew manager at Cardiff Central, the busiest station in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. I’m also a committee member of Caerphilly RFC and a Community Councillor for our village. And on top of that, I have been training in preparation for 2023 when, five other female firefighters and I plan to traverse Antarctica, skiing for over 70 days in freezing temperatures and high winds.

The Covid-19 emergency has meant there are no council meetings to attend, no events in the community, and no meeting up with friends for cake and a chat. There isn’t even any rugby to watch. But the greatest changes have been caused by my husband working from home, my children no longer attending school and the enormous changes to my working day.

These days, the start of a shift is all about cleaning. We are busy disinfecting all the parts of the fire engine we touch most frequently - doors, locker handles, charging cables, radios. Then it’s on to the bay area doors, light switches and handrails. Followed by the offices, concentrating on keyboards and phones. We pass a daily count of PPE on station so stock levels can be replenished immediately. Fire stations are like an extension of our homes. We work, eat, sleep and train there - so social distancing is difficult and really unnatural. It’s also impossible when we do training drills or attend operational calls. Which makes it all the more important that we are thorough with personal hygiene and keeping the station clean.

Now when an emergency call comes into our control room, staff not only have to gather information on the incident we are attending, but also whether the occupants and/or casualties have symptoms of Covid-19, confirmed Covid-19 or if they’re vulnerable. We don the appropriate PPE on route and where possible minimise the number of us who get off the fire engine.

Of the calls we’ve attended so far, two of the most difficult have been a flat fire and a water rescue. The water rescue because it was impossible to offer any additional PPE to the firefighter in the water or to the casualty. At the flat fire, the, casualty was symptomatic and required casualty care. This mean that four firefighters then needed to be fully decontaminated at the scene and then we had to further decontaminate equipment at the station before the fire engine could be used again.

The Antarctic Fire Angels at training. Photo: author's own

Going out to work is a welcome break for me and definitely helps keep my mental health positive. Home schooling a 10 year-old and a six year-old is MUCH harder! Even with a timetable and the support of truly wonderful teachers it’s impossible not to worry that you’re not doing enough or that they’ll fall behind. I didn’t do brilliantly at school myself, so I feel like we’re learning together. Usually my kids are both really busy with sport, drama and music lessons, and we spend most of our evenings at different training sessions, shows or games. The sudden pause is being felt hard. They miss their friends and our family desperately. Considering the massive change to their daily lives I’m truly in awe of how well they’re doing, although there are good days and bad.

I’m very lucky to have a marriage where we work together. But as much as we share housework and childcare, I still feel I carry the bigger percentage of the mental load. Arranging the timetable, ensuring the children have their schoolwork ready, planning meals, worrying about birthdays and looking for ways to keep everyone entertained. But then my husband is still trying to work in this mad house and he’s shopping for our vulnerable family members and doing all the childcare while I work. There IS balance, but I find I have to remind myself of that when he’s got downtime and I feel resentful. I have friends who are not so lucky, as they’re expected to homeschool their children, cook, clean and work from home.

I feel like this crisis has allowed me to know my family better and to listen to my own feelings more, I hope this is the case for everyone. Watching the Thursday evening clapping for the NHS and seeing the vast majority of people follow the guidance gives me hope that after this people will want to continue to look after each other as a large collective, that people will realise their power when they act together for a common cause. I think the people of the UK will have a new found respect for keyworkers, particularly those in healthcare, care, teaching and retail who are all too often forgotten.

But for now – let’s stay home, stay safe and protect the NHS.