A highly experienced firefighter has thanked the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for its support – after welcoming her miracle baby into the world.
Watch Manager Karla Stevenson and her wife Michelle battled through four years of fertility treatment before learning that they had finally fallen pregnant.
And Michelle was at her side as she gave birth to their daughter Brèagha at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow on 9 August.
The little girl’s name is derived from Gaelic and means ‘beautiful’.
Karla, 35, said: “We encountered such a release of emotions when Brèagha finally arrived. There was both disbelief and great relief that she was finally here, safe and sound.
“It was without doubt the greatest occasion of our lives - and we just melted into the moment.”
Karla has shared their private joy in order to speak about the support she received from the SFRS as it prepares to launch a national recruitment campaign for firefighters.
She said: “The assistance that was given to me is there for everyone because there is a respect within the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for family life.”
Karla and wife Michelle welcome Brèagha into the world
Karla, who born in 1980 and lived on Skye before moving to Beauly, near Inverness in 1989, began her career as a retained firefighter at the Highland town fire station in 2000.
She applied five times to become a wholetime firefighter but failed – because of the tough bleep test where candidates must complete 20 metre shuttle runs in time to recorded bleep sounds.
She had been suffering a recurring sports injury but – as she was still a retained firefighter – she was eligible for assistance from the Firefighters’ Charity to stay at a dedicated rehabilitation and recovery centre in England.
That assistance from the UK-wide charity alongside the encouragement of her retained colleagues in Beauly spurred her on.
Karla undertakes RTC training at Gullane
And, at Hamilton in 2005 – thanks to Karla’s sheer determination - she hit the 9.6 standard required to pass the test.
Karla said: “I already felt as though I had landed my dream job but, of course, I had a lot more to do.” She had yet to undertake the intensive 12-week training programme at Gullane.
Karla said: “What can I say about Gullane? There were times when I found it very hard going. But I did feel comfortable thanks to my retained background. Nothing phased me – I felt that I had earned my place there.”
She passed the rigorous tests with flying colours and was given her first posting to Oban in March 2008 and then moved to Renfrew in November that same year, and then to Knightswood which was a multi-pump station with water rescue capability.
The following year, she met Michelle, 36, while out socialising with friends in Glasgow.
They tied the knot in 2011 at an intimate family ceremony in Edinburgh Old Town, at a venue called The Caves, and decided to start trying for a family the following year.
Karla and Michelle celebrate their wedding day
Karla said: “We went through our various options, weighing up our options – for example, which one of us would get pregnant. There were lots of decisions to make. It was a big rollercoaster.”
In 2012, the couple sought medical assistance.
Karla said: “After trying for a year without success, I told my line manager. I was slightly nervous as it was, of course, very personal. But he was so happy for us and it was really nice to know that I had that full support.”
She was thereafter referred to the SFRS health and wellbeing service where Karla was able to discuss her medication and support requirements. She said: “That meant the world to me. It meant that I could take time off for medical appointments with the full support of the Service.”
Meanwhile, her career continued to progress.
Just five years after taking up her first post as a full-time firefighter, Karla was appointed Crew Manager at Cowcaddens in January 2013. She said: “It was a lot of responsibility but the team work ethic of the Fire Service meant that I was fully supported in my new role.
“It was nice to have that trust and to know that people had faith in my ability. I was very proud.”
Karla led her crew at various emergencies such as fires at high rise tower blocks but also enjoyed working with communities, which included giving talks to school children about her role.
She said: “They did get a surprise when they saw a female firefighter. I will never forget one little boy who admitted ‘I have never seen a lady fireman before’.”
Karla added: “At the start of the talk, most of the boys would put their hands up when we asked who would like to be a firefighter. After our talk, you would see a lot of the girls holding up their arms too.”
Karla standing on the front line to protect communities
In August 2014, Karla was promoted to Watch Manager and appointed Area Training Officer for the City of Glasgow. She was one of three officers responsible for ensuring the training and safety of 600 personnel across 11 wholetime stations.
And in August 2015, she became Watch Manager at the SFRS National Training Centre at Cambuslang and responsible for learning and e-development – ensuring access to training and development was available to all firefighters across the whole of Scotland.
Karla and the team – led by a Group Manager - ensure it is absolutely current and in a format that is easy to understand in order to support the safety of all personnel attending at emergency.
She said: “We are effectively ensuring that communities get the service they absolutely deserve. If our firefighters are properly trained then they are best placed to assist at a whole range of emergency situations that can arise anywhere across the country.
“I am very proud of this role and it is great when we get feedback from the firefighters to say that something we have done has helped or assisted them in their training.”
Karla was stunned to find out that she had fallen pregnant in November of that year.
She said: “We had been through the process so many times that we didn’t want to get excited - the medication can mimic the signs of pregnancy.
“We did the test five times just to make absolutely sure.
“To be honest, it was a surreal moment. We had protected our emotions; it was self-preservation. But then it happened – and there was a lot of emotion.
“I informed my Group Manager – and got a massive hug!”
She added: “My colleagues are, of course, all very much looking forward to meeting our daughter.”
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is seeking to recruit up to 200 new firefighters over the next two years.
It is expected 100 will report for duty in 2017 with the option of a further 100 in 2018.
If you are inspired by Karla’s story and would like to have a career at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, visit: www.firescotland.gov.uk/peoplelikeyou or follow #PeopleLikeYou on social media.
The recruitment campaign opens on 13 September and everyone has several weeks to apply.