Sometimes in life things happen that put everything else into perspective. That was what happened to Hannah Lodder. She had just been promoted to watch commander in the fire service and one of the highest ranking females in her workplace. It was 2006 and she had just had her second son Alfie and was still on maternity leave, intending to go back after four months as she had done with her first son 18 months earlier.
He was due for his first immunisation, but was not well. Hannah says she informed the nurse of his illness. Three days after the immunisation as she was travelling to see her brother he got worse and she had to rush to hospital. There he went into cardiac arrest and had to have a blood transfusion from Hannah. Eventually he stabilised and Hannah says she saw other families who were not so lucky and didn’t walk out of the hospital with their child. “It was heart-breaking,” she says, “and it changed my outlook on life. It opened my eyes to what was important in life.”
Alfie was in and out of hospital over the next few months, having tests and brain scans, but the doctors never discovered what had provoked the heart attack. Hannah, who is the main breadwinner in her family, had been signed off on stress leave, but had to go back to work after nine months. “It was the hardest thing I have ever done,” she says.
Her partner is an equine specialist and had dropped his hours when her oldest son Max was born to become the main carer.
Last year, however, the family made a big decision and moved from Henley in Arden in Warwickshire to mid West Wales, near Cardigan Bay so that the children would have a healthier life. She doesn’t regret it and says the boys are much happier. Her partner has put his business on hold temporarily until he can set it up in Wales.
It meant, though, that Hannah faced a three-hour commute to Kidderminster, where she was still working, having opted to take a fire fighter’s role and drop two ranks for family reasons.
Hannah does shifts of two days and two nights on. To save on commuting, she stays in Kidderminster for three nights – two at the fire station and one at a friend’s house – and when she comes home she has four days with the children. “I have had to become a less selfish person,” she says. “It is touch, but the lifestyle in Wales is fantastic. There’s lots of countryside and seaside and the boys are very healthy.”
She adds that she does miss the responsibility she had as a watch commander. In place of that she has become the union learning representative for the fire brigade and has set up courses for people with learning disabilities. She is also her branch’s union representative and as such has been promoting women’s issues within the fire service, for instance, for the introduction of maternity wear for fire fighters.
She says that her experience, though, has taught her one big lesson. “I have learnt that the most important thing is to look after your family and yourself. My kids are my priority.”