Growing up, Bex Sims never dreamed of being a Firefighter, nor sailing across the Pacific and through one she will achieve the other. Now a professional Firefighter, Bex enjoys a challenge, and living life to the fullest, and her energy and passion for life is an inspiration for others.
Bex, tell us a little about yourself, and what you are doing now, and what you are going to do next year?
I’m 38, live in Derbyshire and I’m a Firefighter and have been since 2013. I enjoy the outdoors, challenging myself, travelling and meeting new people. Next year I am taking part in the Clipper Round the World yacht race on Leg 6 from China to USA.
Can you tell us more about the Clipper Race? How big are the boats, and crew and is this a professional race?
The Clipper race is a biennial round the world race with a fleet of 12 matched yachts. They are purpose designed and built especially for this challenge. Each boat has a professional skipper, but the crew of 20 are all amateur sailors, 40% of which will never have sailed before. It brings together people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and professions and puts them in a unique environment to test their team work to the maximum. Apart from learning how to sail, the challenges of living and working aboard a 70 foot yacht with waves as high as tower blocks rocking the boat pushes the crew to their limits. 24 hours a day someone is trying to cook below decks in a cramped kitchen, half of the crew will be trying to rest whilst the rest are changing the sails, helming in big seas and keeping the boat going as fast as possible to earn points in each race.
I first had a go at sailing when I was 11 on a school trip and hated it! I didn’t understand how it worked and didn’t engage with it at all, I just got frustrated. On further school trips I had another go and it started to make sense so whilst at University I became an assistant sailing instructor and went on to teach school groups an introduction to sailing at an outdoor centre. After that I went on a tall ship and loved that, so helped out on a few more voyages as a volunteer but haven’t been in about 10 years.
In May I saw an advert in Firefighter magazine for a competition to win a place on a leg of the race and jumped at it, having seen the event being televised before. I was shortlisted and one of 8 firefighters to be invited to attend 1 week of training before I was finally chosen to represent the Fire Service. I was so chuffed, and still can’t quite believe my luck!
Which leg are you sailing?
I will join my team (Visit Seattle) and get on the boat in Qingdao, China. We will leave on 23rd March for Leg 6 of 8 and race over 6,000 miles to Seattle, USA. This will take up to a month to complete so we should arrive between 14-19th April, hopefully in a podium position.Leg 6.
As a firefighting, what challenges you face on a daily basis?
Every day is different so I have to be ready for anything at a moment’s notice. Team work is a massive part of the job so training with my watch and trusting each other is a necessity.
What is like facing fire?
It seems like an obvious thing to say, but fire is hot! This was my first thought when I was training, our kit is so good at keeping out the worst of it, but being in a room where it can be 800C at head height, yet we can still cope, is amazing. It can be mesmerising and deserves respect.
What is your typical day like?
A typical shift is all planned out in advance and includes parading on, checking the whole truck over, testing equipment, gym time, drill sessions, meals together, home safety checks or visiting a business premises, theory input and much more. But if the bells go, we drop whatever we’re doing, get into our fire kit and get on the road to wherever the incident is and deal with it together.
How are you balancing been a firefighter and the sailing race?
I have taken leave to attend all the training courses required before the race. My watch, manager and employer have been amazingly supportive to let me move time off to accommodate all of the dates. For the race I’ve also been granted some sports leave to cover some of the time off I need to be away for 6 weeks. After each course colleagues ask me how it’s going and generally think I’m mad to be doing this!
Who inspires you?
Sailors like Ellen Macarthur and Dee Cafari inspire me, as well as Dany Cotton, the first female Commissioner for London Fire Brigade.