Ange Hickenbotham led what she described as a “fairly normal life”. She and her husband Brian spent a lot of their time together and Ange worked for Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service in its control room, a job she’s loved since she started.
But on one fateful day in 2005, her world turned upside down when her husband had a stroke. Since then, Ange has been juggling a full time career with the fire service and being Brian’s carer.
Here, she shares her story as part of the International Women’s Day campaign, Choose to Challenge.
Ange joined the service 22 years ago as an operator in the control room and has worked her way up to become a Crew Manager. She never thought she’d end up working for the fire service, but she said the role found her.
“I used to work at a builder’s merchants and very often firefighters would undertake building work outside of their normal job,” she recalled. “My job in itself required a lot of multitasking and organising and I remember one day a firefighter came in and said: ‘You’d be great working in a control room.’
“Of course at this time, I didn’t even know what a control room was, never mind how to work in one!”
Ange applied for a job opening but sadly she wasn’t successful the first time round. It was six months later when she got the call to say there was a new opening and this time she succeeded.
She said: “At this time, Brian wasn’t disabled so life was pretty normal for me. I’d go to work, come home and Brian and I would spend our time together, we enjoyed gardening, meeting up with friends and getting away in the caravan.”
But in 2005, Brian had a stroke while driving his car which left him with complete left-sided paralysis. Now, Ange spends her time caring for him.
“I can still remember very clearly those first few days after his stroke,” she said. “They were some of the hardest days of my life, but the support and love from my fire family was exceptional. My manager at the time had spoken to colleagues at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service as that’s where Brian was in hospital and before I knew it, people who didn’t even know me were offering to help our family – either bringing us clothes or giving us a place to stay so we could be close to Brian in the hospital. I’ll never forget that kindness.”
Since then, life has settled down for Ange and Brian and together they have adapted to their new way of living, but 16 years on, they can still face challenges.
“Every moment I’m not at work, I’m looking after Brian. It can be overwhelming sometimes, but we seem to have struck a good balance,” said Ange.
“If I worked a 9-5 job, Brian and I wouldn’t get a chance to see or spend time with each other. Thankfully, because of the flexibility of my job, we can very often just sit and enjoy each other’s company in the day. Even if we don’t have anything particular to speak about, it’s just nice knowing you have someone around.
“I think without that flexibility Brian’s mental health would’ve deteriorated. Having me around in the day has made a huge difference to him.
“Going out to work also gives me an opportunity to get respite, something I’m very grateful for. If I’m not around, then professional carers will help look after Brian and it gives him a change of environment. For me, it means I can get out of the house, speak to other people and take my mind off things for a short while, all while knowing he’s in the best hands.”
Ange admits that even after all these years of perfecting the balance of having a career and being a carer, sometimes she’s thrown a curveball.
She said: “Working and looking after Brian can have its challenges. In my role, you can’t just walk away from it like you can some others. People’s lives quite literally depend on me and I have a duty of care to them as well as to Brian.
“I’ve found that if I’m well organised and plan things in advance, things usually run smoothly. We have a pattern and a routine now so things have gotten easier over time. I’m lucky to have a supportive family, as well as the help of Brian’s professional carers.
“It’s also been a huge help to have supportive colleagues around me. We look after each other and share our burdens. The unending support and care they have shown me over the years means the world to me.”
Ange (left) and her Blue Watch colleagues
(photograph taken pre-covid)
When asked what she’d like others to take away from her story, Ange said: “Looking after Brian is a full-time job in itself, but I’m more than just a carer. I’m also a control room operative and a Crew Manager, a mother, a friend and so much more. I Choose to Challenge people’s perceptions every day.”
Notes to Editors:
Interviews can be arranged through prior arrangement with Corporate Communications on the details below.
About the Service
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service provides emergency response, prevention and protection services from 20 stations across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Its headquarters is based in Birstall, Leicester.
During 2019/20, we attended a total of 8,541 emergency incidents, including 2,079 fires and 748 road traffic collisions. A total of 7,274 Home Safety Checks were completed and we fitted 4,720 smoke alarms. 305 schools were visited as part of the Service’s schools programme, delivering fire and road safety education to 26,218 pupils. Staff organised or took part in 1,218 community safety activities, totalling over 11,000 hours of time engaging with members of the public.
The Service’s prevention, education, enforcement and inspection programmes have resulted in significant reductions in the number of incidents. In the last ten years, fire-related incidents have reduced by over 30 percent.
Direct: 0116 210 5768