I WAS pinched in the pitch black confines of a tunnel, saddled by the weight of a gas cylinder and seriously wondering if I would ever wriggle free.

There, blindly headbutting my way through the course, reality hit me: no, I probably haven't got what it takes to be a firefighter.

It was an extreme example of the trials Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service crews tackle every day, but one that opened my eyes to the requirements of the role.

Claustrophobia is apparently not one of them, as I discovered during the women's taster day at Didcot Fire Station on Saturday.

About 20 of us turned up to try our hand at various tasks, as part of the service's drive to diversify and recruit more women.

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After being kitted out in uniform, complete with boots and helmet (both heavier than I had imagined), I waddled over to try the breathing apparatus task.

The challenge is based in a building, which houses a maze of tunnels and cages on different levels.

I had to put on a face mask, blindfold and a high-pressure tank on my back, lie on my stomach and drag my body through the gaps, feeling around to find my way.

Panic set in immediately, particularly as - quite literally - I could not see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The weight of the equipment and lack of air only fuelled the feeling of being trapped, but it was a proud moment to finally emerge and see the light of day again - albeit with a lot of help from the firefighters overseeing the task.

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Relief after the breathing apparatus task

Once I had gasped in enough fresh air and stopped squinting at the light of day, I was attached to a harness and talked through the correct way to ladder climb.

Taking it one round (rung) at a time, I slowly ascended the height of a three-storey tower and clambered back down again.

I have many fears but, happily for this task, heights are not one of them.

The main issue was getting used to the technique, which is to climb using the foot and hand from the same side, at the same time.

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My final task was to lift the weight of one quarter of a ladder, pressing a metal bar up to my chest before pushing it above my head.

Despite bravado in my head that I am stronger than I look, it was an embarrassing defeat - I could not lift it at all, not even a centimetre.

That is something that I can work on, crew manager Becky Rimmer tells me. Failing these tasks first time means nothing, so long as the candidate is prepared to come back and tackle it until they pass.

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Her encouragement reflects the catchline of these taster days, which is 'come and have a go.'

The stereotype that firefighting is a job for burly men is archaic, but the percentage of women in our fire service is still tiny.

Taster days are a fun way of finding out what you are capable of and if you could become one of the county's firefighting heroes.

Oxford Mail:

Success after the weight of the ladder lift was lowered

Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has 25 stations across the county, with a huge variety of roles - from putting out fires to responding to road crashes, flooding and water rescues, to animal rescues and community engagement visits.

ALSO READ: Fires make up just five per cent of fire crews' rescues

The service is particularly keen to recruit on-call firefighters, ideally who live within five miles of a fire station, who can balance the role with their normal job.

Of 330 on-call firefighters across the county, less than eight percent are women.

For details of future taster days visit oxfordshire.gov.uk/oncallfirefighters or email fire.recruitment@oxfordshire.gov.uk.