Felixstowe firefighter Hazel reveals anguish behind Land's End to John O'Groats challenge

  Posted: 15.09.21 at 09:30 by Derek Davis

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A Felixstowe firefighter has revealed the reasons why she is taking part in a gruelling 1,000 bike ride to help fellow fire and rescue personnel.

The group of 14 fire and rescue service personnel are cycling the length of the UK, with five support crew, for The Fire Fighters Charity – while raising awareness of the mental health challenges they and their colleagues face every day.

The team will set off from Land’s End next Monday, 20 September, and aim to reach John O’Groats 10 days and 1,000 miles later.

The aim is to raise £50,000 for The Fire Fighters Charity, but for Felixstowe's Hazel Baldwin, who is one of the brave riders, getting the right message across is of vital importance.

"It is about getting people talking about mental health, especially men," said Hazel who is a part-time firefighter and also runs a Yoga Studio in Beach Street.

"Women have incredible support groups. They will also talk about themselves. If they like some they will share personal deals. It is in their neuro science 'I like you, therefore Im going to tell you something about me, and you tell me something' and they will be connected.

"Men don't work like that. They work in a hierarchal system and that suits men. However, when you work in a hierarchal system if you tell them there is something wrong with me, it drops you down the system, especially the Alpha males.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue cyclists ready for 1,000 mile challenge (Picture credit: Suffolk CC)

"If as firefighters we can show our vulnerabilities and weakness that will encourage others to come forward and admit to ask for help."

Hazel has been practising for months but knows it will be painful, physically and mentally exhausting

She said: "We are choosing to suffer, we know this will hurt, we know we will struggle but we hope that will help those who are suffering with something none of us chose.

"We don't choose to see the things we see. A lot of fire-fighters going through this challenge hey faced their own personal challenges and it is the job we do.

"Hopefully it will be cathartic and we share that in our journey. We will be vulnerable but we will be strong as a team and I'm incredibly proud of them all and feel honoured to be able to do this together."

The Longest Ride for the Firefighters Charity

While fire crews, and other emergency services, are back to the old routines as such, those months during the pandemic, in particular lockdowns, took its toll.

Hazel did: "It got worse for emergency services during and post pandemic. Where we are used to doing our particular roles we had to add in other protocols and processes.

"That added to a daily existence of jumping on a fire engine to go and do what we do and we are so well trained we do that, but the constant change can take its toll."

Hazel explained how the isolation for senior officers who missed the camaraderie of the office environment as they were working from home, had its affects, and the timing of the Longest Ride comes at an ideal time.

Hazel said: "What they see and have to write reports about, are not things you want to put on your families. You do what you do in work environment but having to do it at home means you have no-one to share or bounce off with.

Hazel has been training hard for charity bike ride (Picture credit: Felixstowe Nub News)

"The cracks are beginning to show now and it is something we need to be aware of that.

"So, for me, doing the Longest Ride now means the timing is absolute right it might save lives, families, relationship it is about putting ourselves on the line.

"It is not about being a hero with a uniform on, it is about becoming your own hero."

Hazel on firefighting and yoga after her brush with death.

The funds raised by the Longest Ride are going towards transforming the outdoor space and garden at Jubilee House in Penrith - one of three residential centres run by the Charity. This space will be a valuable aid when it comes to promoting the therapeutic benefits of the outdoors for beneficiaries.

The Fire Fighters Charity supports the health and wellbeing of all serving and retired members of the fire service community, as well as their spouses, partners and dependants.

Suffolk Station Manager, Darren Cooper, first came up with the idea for the challenge and says: “The money we’d like to raise will make a huge difference in supporting mental health. The transformed outdoor space at Jubilee House will positively benefit our firefighter colleagues and families.

“But equally, this is a journey we are making to raise awareness and remove the stigma surrounding mental health. Each member of the team will produce a daily video to share stories and emotions which have shaped them as individuals from their personal and/or professional lives. They will provide key messages and coping strategies that can support people’s wellbeing and prove that ‘it’s ok not to be ok’. We aim to get the UK talking about mental health.

“The £50K we’re aiming to raise is hugely valuable in the support that it will provide, but if we can reach one person and they seek help, then our job is done. On a personal level, it will be a physical challenge greater than anything any of us have faced before.”

Dr Jill Tolfrey, Chief Executive of The Fire Fighters Charity, says: “We are delighted to offer our full support to the whole team as it sets off on The Longest Ride. Every pound raised will allow us to fund life-enhancing health and wellbeing support – at our centres, through our outdoor spaces and online – for members of the fire services community in need today. On behalf of everyone at the Charity, as well as our beneficiaries, we wish you the very best of luck for a safe, successful – and dry – ride.”

The team welcomes donations and would love to hear from businesses interested in sponsoring the challenge, either financially or by providing equipment.

Suffolk fire-fighters outside Endeavour House (Picture credit: Suffolk CC)

To donate to them, you can visit their fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/team/longestride. You can also see their latest updates on their website (https://thelongestride.co.uk) and on Facebook: The Longest Ride 2021, Twitter: @LongestRide2021 or Instagram @longestride2021.

If you would like to donate to The Fire Fighters Charity, or organise a fundraising event in support of the vital work it does in the fire services community, visit its
website here.

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