FIREFIGHTERS on a mission to change the 'macho' perception of their profession are encouraging schoolgirls to consider joining the fire service.

In a first-of-its-kind campaign, Wantage Fire Station is launching an after-school training course for girls aged 13 and older.

The elective classes, which start in January, are part of an countywide drive by Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service chief Simon Furlong to get more women on the force.

On Thursday the Ormond Road station held a launch event attended by several girls from King Alfred's Academy in the town.

Charlotte Allen, 15, said she had been inspired to consider signing up by her dad, who used to be a firefighter at Wantage.

The Year 10 said: "My dad would tell me so many stories about helping people.

"He would come home and say 'I taught so many people about safety today'."

Asked if she might be put off by joining a male-dominated world she said: "I would not be bothered whatsoever.

"If I wanted to join the fire service I wouldn't care if there were 10 or 100 women doing it, and I believe more women should be encourage to join up."

The girls who sign up will go along to the station after school one day a week and practice tackling mock fires in full uniform.

They will also learn about the fire service's community safety and education work.

It is hoped that once they are 18 or older they will then consider joining up for real.

Among those who will be leading the club is Wantage's only female firefighter in a force of 16 – Shelley Wright.

The 23-year-old, who walked into Wantage Fire Station after seeing a recruitment poster, urged girls to give it a try.

She said: "One of the problems is the Fireman Sam stereotype, but I often forget I'm the only girl here.

"We had a women's taster day in September and a girl said to me, 'being the only female, do you get a lot of sexism?'

I've never experienced anything like that – the team at Wantage always just seemed chuffed to have me."

What's more, since joining in March 2016, Miss Wright has found a unique niche on the team.

She said: "Because I'm smaller and more agile than some of the guys I'm made to climb through small spaces like windows.

"Then, when it comes to picking up really heavy equipment, I have no problem asking for help."

Wantage station manager, Sean Mienie, said he wanted his team as close to a 50/50 gender split as possible.

At the moment there are only 32 women in Oxfordshire's fire service – six per cent of the total.

He said: "It's going to be fantastic: we're going to give them the confidence to realise you don't have to be superhuman to be a firefighter.

"Hopefully it can be a pilot for the whole county."

King Alfred's electives coordinator Juliane Spiers said: "It’s great how a random conversation I had at Grove Extravaganza in the summer sparked this really novel idea.

"This should be an awesome opportunity for our girls to show what they can do. I cannot wait to hear what they get up to."