Our former Lioness tackles filming for UEFA’s International Women’s Day campaign

From representing her country as a footballer at the highest level to becoming a firefighter and serving communities across Staffordshire, Rachel Unitt’s story on and off the pitch is an inspiring one.

So much so that she was recently invited to be a UEFA ‘Skills for Life’ ambassador, taking part in filming for the organisation’s #WePlayStrong European-wide International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign. This year IWD is today, Friday 8 March.

The video profiles Rachel’s journey from playing football through to her current role with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service; and how playing her beloved sport provided her with the skills to succeed off the pitch.

Rachel, who is 41 and based at Hanley Fire Station, said: “Women should without a doubt consider joining the fire service. It’s one of the best jobs in the world. It’s super rewarding because with the types of incidents we respond to, from house fires to road traffic collisions (RTCs), we can make a real difference to people’s lives.

“Women in the service can become role models for young girls and encourage other women to become firefighters.

“Sadly, only a small per cent of firefighters in the UK are women. The physical demands of the job can be daunting and can create apprehension. The workplace culture is also traditionally male dominated, which can lead to concerns about ‘fitting in’ or being accepted.

“Times have changed, as they have within women’s football, though. I was welcomed by my watch and felt comfortable right from the off, so if there are women out there who are interested in the job I would say to them ‘go for it’.

“They’ll be surprised by the role. For me it was totally different to what I perceived before joining. It’s so much more than just fighting fires; we attend RTCs, hazardous materials, animal rescues assist the police and ambulance and so much more.

"A lot of work we carry out now is to do with prevent, so we work with the community fitting smoke alarms, carrying out risk inspections and delivering fire safety talks to schools."

Rachel started playing football in mixed teams with boys and girls as a schoolgirl and moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers, aged 13.

She went on to make 102 appearances for the national side and joined us seven years ago after stepping away from the game due to injury.

She played left-back for England in five major tournaments and was crowned England's International Player of the Year in 2004 and 2006.

Having played for clubs including Wolves, Fulham, Everton and Birmingham City she was inducted into the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame in 2016.

“I miss playing football, of course I do, but this job is absolutely amazing. One of the best aspects of it for me is working as part of a team. I enjoy the camaraderie, which is something I missed from my days as a footballer.

“It’s been great being involved in the #WePlayStrong campaign to get young girls into football so they can develop and learn new skills that they can use later in life. I’ve transferred so many skills from football into my role as a firefighter – resilience, a love of teamwork, determination and communication; believe it or not, I used to be quite shy and timid when I started out in the game! Playing football is a huge part of who I am today.”

We are currently recruiting on-call firefighters across the county. For more information visit: On-call firefighter recruitment (staffordshirefire.gov.uk)