A Fife-based firefighter has told how she worked to protect the public following a devastating blaze which claimed the lives of hundreds of people in her native country.
Clara Kay, who is now a full time crew member in Dunfermline, was working as a volunteer firefighter in Paraguay when the tragedy struck in August 2004.
The 38-year-old was haunted by the images she saw at the Ycuá Bolaños supermarket in Asunción, where 300 people lost their lives.
Despite the harrowing ordeal, Clara is backing a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) recruitment campaign which launched last week, and is “proud” to be a crew member.
Speaking about the tragic fire, she said: “I couldn’t sleep for a week – it was all I could see when I closed my eyes.
“I had only been volunteering as a firefighter for about a year and had never seen anything like it – it wasn’t anything I had trained for.
“The people who survived were underneath the dead and there were so many bodies, including some children.
“We had to move them to a temporary mortuary which was just horrific. We did get trauma counselling afterwards and that did help a bit.”
After meeting her husband David, a fellow firefighter, she eventually emigrated to Scotland in 2009 before undertaking four attempts to get into the SFRS
The mum-of-two explained: “When I came to Scotland I applied to join but I failed the bleep test – it was all so different from being a volunteer firefighter in Paraguay.
“It was easy to get into the Paraguayan service but I had a lot to learn here to get through the tough process.
“We need to hit the standard to ensure we are safe to respond and protect the public.
“I was determined so I worked on every weakness which had been highlighted through previous attempts to get through.
“I went to college to improve my maths and I also improved my English. My husband David is in the service so he gave me lots of encouragement and support.”
She added: “It was hard leaving a job I loved and my friends and family but I love Scotland – especially the autumns and summers. This is my home now and I love it.
“Myself and David are on opposite shifts which is great for child care. Sometimes we have to swap over in the car park when he starts his day shift and I come off night shift.
“We are still able to spend plenty of time together so it works well. I would recommend a career as a firefighter because it is a very rewarding and fulfilling career.
“Faith, determination and hard work were key to my success. I honestly think it is the best job in the world.
“My kids are proud to say I am a firefighter and I am proud to be one.”
If you are inspired by Clara’s story and would like to have a career at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, please visit: www.firescotland.gov.uk/work-with-us/wholetime-firefighter-recruitment.aspx