IT was 5pm on Valentine’s Day and a shop assistant at Wheatley’s Asda superstore was coming to the end of a long ten-hour shift.
But only minutes before, a huge explosion had torn through an apartment block at Gibb’s Crescent, Oxford, killing one person.
So rather than heading back to her Tetsworth home for some well-earned rest, Amanda Patience dropped everything and rushed to the scene of the explosion as she is one of 280 on-call firefighters in the county balancing a full-time job with saving lives.
Miss Patience, 30, told the Oxford Mail: “When it happened I had been at work since 7am and my shift was about to end.
“And then I got a call to say it had happened so I had to quickly tell my manager and then drop everything and rush out to the fire station.
“I was at the scene until 11.30pm and then the next day I had to come in and work another full shift before being called back out to the scene again.
“It is hard work balancing the two but it is so rewarding.”
Amanda regularly works nearly 100-hour weeks, working more than 40 hours at her full time job at Asda and another 50 hours on-call - ready to tackle everything from floods and fires to large-scale accidents.
She was among the first on the scene at the Gibb’s Crescent explosion as well as the 33-car pile-up on the M40 in the fog two years ago. She was also called to the Didcot tower collapse, attending on the second day, an experience she described as a deeply emotional one.
She said: “It was really sad being there and there was a lot of emotion because I knew there were people underneath it and the family were nearby.
“It was such a sad place to be in. It was like a ghost town and really not a nice place to be in at all.”
Working as an on-call firefighter since 2009, Amanda praised the comradery of her fellow firefighters and said she is kept motivated by both the excitement of being a firefighter and also the chance she has to act as a role model within the community.
Currently only about seven per cent of on-call firefighters in Oxfordshire are women.
She said: “I love working with the fire service, and going to schools and the kids looking up to you.
“Because there are not many female firefighters, the little girls will all look up and get so excited to see you all smart in your uniform.
“I think with the fire brigade the excitement keeps you going. We don’t know what we are going into or what we are going to see.”
General store manager at Asda Wheatley Michael Turner also praised Amanda for her tireless work.
He said: “We want to support our colleagues in getting the right balance in their lives.
“Amanda is a great support to the store, customers and local community.
“She manages to juggle a full-time role here, a role with the fire service and her home life, she does it all very well.”
Watch manager at Wheatley fire station Mark Keely has now put out a call for more on-call fighters to sign up and give up their time to help save lives.
He said: “We’ve got fantastic crews in Wheatley, Thame and Didcot but as a few of them are moving on or retiring, we’re looking for more people to join the teams.
“It’s a challenging but extremely rewarding role where you’ll learn new skills, experience real team camaraderie and play an important part in the local community.”