CFB Esquimalt firefighter Alex Marshall, Langford firefighter Jenny Reid and Victoria firefighters Amy Tai and Brenna Stonehocker say their experiences in firefighting have been mostly positive. Women compose only 3.6 per cent of Greater Victoria’s firefighters, but they are hopeful that number will grow. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

CFB Esquimalt firefighter Alex Marshall, Langford firefighter Jenny Reid and Victoria firefighters Amy Tai and Brenna Stonehocker say their experiences in firefighting have been mostly positive. Women compose only 3.6 per cent of Greater Victoria’s firefighters, but they are hopeful that number will grow. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Only 22 out of 600 Greater Victoria firefighters are women

‘Don’t let a fear of failure stop you,’ say region’s few female firefighters

Only 22 of 600 volunteer and career firefighters in Greater Victoria are women, meaning approximately 3.6 per cent of the region’s fire service workforce is female – lower than the Canadian average of 4.4 per cent.

But in a job that requires the unconditional trust and support of their teammates, many of Greater Victoria’s female firefighters say they rarely, if ever, feel they don’t belong in their majority male workplaces.

Metchosin firefighter Gloria Lejour says joining the department helped her to push past her fears, with every achievement coming with an “addictive” adrenaline boost. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

“I get a lot of, ‘Oh how do you do that? You’re so small,’” says Metchosin firefighter Gloria Lejour. “You find ways to make it work. I can climb through some tighter spots … But there’s a lot more to it than a lot of people realize. It’s not just the heavy lifting and going inside burning houses.”

READ ALSO: 100 feet high: Saanich’s teen headed to Camp Ignite

Jenny Reid, a career firefighter with Langford Fire Rescue, says when she was growing up, a job as a firefighter wasn’t presented as a career choice for girls.

“I was never told when I was in high school that firefighting was an option,” she says.

But Reid points to initiatives like Camp IGNITE, a Vancouver-based youth mentorship program that offers teen girls the chance to try out firefighting. In 2017, a Saanich teen went to the four-day camp, trying her hand at team-building drills and mental, physical challenges like those faced by firefighters.

“I think now there’s a lot more programs out there telling the younger generation that anything is possible, and I think we’ll see that play out,” Reid says. “I spent a lot of my early and mid-20s trying to figure out what I wanted to do and kind of stumbled upon firefighting by chance.”

After getting a degree, Reid pursued a GIS diploma and did a practicum at Victoria Fire Hall No. 1.

“Sitting in the back of the fire hall and hearing the house bells go off, it intrigued me and it made me start thinking about it.”

Langford firefighter Jenny Reid participates in technical rope rescue training, one of her favourite parts of the job. Reid says when she was growing up, firefighting was never presented to her a career option, but she thinks that might be changing for girls in the coming generations. (Photo Courtesy of Jenny Reid)

Amy Tai, a career firefighter with the Victoria Fire Department, is one of only two suppression firefighters on the city’s team but says most of the pressure she feels about being a woman comes from herself.

“I felt like I needed to push myself extra hard and prove something, prove that I wasn’t just hired because I’m a girl,” Tai says. “But I think Victoria did a really amazing job with that. They have a standard and they stuck to it. They didn’t give anyone special treatment.”

“Male or female, [firefighting] is not for everybody,” says Amy Thai (right), a firefighter with the Victoria Fire Department. Tai says anyone who is thinking about a career in firefighting should feel confident it’s the right path for them. “Have that conversation with yourself and figure out why you want to do it, but also figure out is it a good option for you? You shouldn’t have to be convinced that this is the right job for you.” (Photo Courtesy of Amy Tai)

By “special treatment” Tai refers to the gruelling physical requirements needed to become a career member. Regionally, all firefighters have to first pass a standardized physical test followed typically by secondary, department-issued physical skills and fitness evaluation. Those tests include everything from endurance treadmill running and equipment carries to hose advances, ladder climbs, dummy drags and more. They aren’t for the weak of body – or mind.

Tai says she’s seen hiring for fire departments evolve, with character prioritized next to physical durability.

“They are looking to hire leaders now,” she says. “To hire people who will grow into those officer positions versus just having brute strength.”

READ ALSO: ‘Firefighting is not a job for everyone’: Greater Victoria fire chiefs

The physicality of the job isn’t lost on Metchosin Fire Chief Stephanie Dunlop, who joined Metchosin Fire Rescue as a volunteer member in 2000 and became the first paid female chief in the province in 2008.

“I still, to this day, pick up the phone and people ask if the chief is available,” she says. “I answer, ‘yes, this is Chief Dunlop.’”

Dunlop first became a volunteer firefighter in Peachland, B.C. in 1994. She says shifting technology and increased safety measures are, in many ways, changing the nature of the job.

“In today’s world, because prevention and investigation … has improved, the actual number of true emergencies that we go to is fewer and fewer,” she says. “We don’t have the house fires that we used to have because we have sprinklers, we have smoke alarms and education … and we don’t have as many catastrophic [car crashes] because we have airbags and better designs.

“So we do a lot more of [being] on scene for comfort and care or education … It’s not about brute strength, it’s about mental strength and endurance and emotional strength. Physical strength is definitely part of it, but it’s not everything.”

But Dunlop acknowledges that certain situations might be better suited to certain team members. That might mean choosing the six-foot-four male member for a rescue over a smaller, female member.

“They can both do the job if needed to, but I will assign the one that has a lower risk factor,” she says.

Metchosin Fire Chief Stephanie Dunlop says women who join and stick to firefighting do it because they love their communities and their teams. Dunlop has been working as a firefighter since 1994 and in 2008 became B.C.’s first paid female chief. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Women, she adds, do not join the fire service to prove anything or serve in an act of girl power or show of female strength. The women that choose firefighting as a career do so because they want to serve their communities and their teams, which by all accounts, become a second family.

READ ALSO: Women and girls offered free day trip on navy warship

Alex Marshall, career member of CFB Esquimalt Fire Rescue, says a career where she could “assist the public in sometimes very chaotic environments” sounded both exciting and gratifying. She applied to the Central Saanich Fire Department at 21 and has been a volunteer member for the last six years.

“Entering a male-dominated environment never phased me,” she says over email. “To be honest, I really never gave it much thought because I considered myself just as good. I was never taught that I couldn’t do something as good as men.”

Now as a career member, Marshall says her crew is like an extended family.

“Nobody dwells on that fact that I’m a woman. I’m just another team member,” she says. “I’ve been very fortunate that during my time in the fire service I have not experienced any discrimination.”

Marshall advises women who want to join the fire service not to let fear get in the way.

“It’s a challenging and unique work environment. Don’t let your fear of failure or not being as good as men stop you,” she says. “Source us out, we will help guide you.”

READ ALSO: ‘Achieve Anything’: Women and girls get hands-on learning at CFB Esquimalt



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Mann family lived in a coach house attached to the old stables – which once stood across from where the beer bottles were found – from about 1911 to the '30s. This historical photograph shows members of the Mann family passing around a beer bottle similar to the ones found recently. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)
Cheers to history: 100-year-old beer bottles unearthed at Royal Roads University

Four bottles from Victoria Brewing Co., Silver Springs Brewery date back to early 1900s

Tighe Archer with a Winter Tree that he cut and assembled in Esquimalt High wood shop. Students in ten high school wood shops are cutting the raw materials and packaging them into kits that are delivered to Grade 3 and 4 elementary classes in the district to assemble. 
(Lindsay Johnson Photo)
Greater Victoria high schoolers cut Winter Trees for Grade 3 classes

Apprenticing carpentry students bring a little season to younger peers

Evelyn Turner, Jen Rashleigh and Steve Duck with Circular Farm and Food: Vancouver Island stand outside the Sandown Agricultural Lands, future site of the Sandown Centre for Regenerative Agriculture. North Saanich council is considering a draft agreement with the future operators for final approval Monday. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich close to inking final agreement with Sandown operators

Future operators of Sandown Agricultural Lands have confidence in their vision

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Victoria for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

(Courtesy Saanich Police Dept.)
Police hope boot search will help find missing Saanich man

Sean Hart is known to walk for miles, with or without his boots

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Dec. 6 to 12

Mountain Day, Dewey Decimal System Day and Lard Day are all coming up this week

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Montreal Alouettes’ Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Study finds Canada a ‘laggard’ on homophobia in sports

Among females, 44 per cent of Canadians who’ve come out to teammates reported being victimized

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Information about the number of COVID-19 cases in Abbotsford and other municipalities poses a danger to the public, the Provincial Health Services Authority says. (Photo: Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)
More city-level COVID-19 data would jeopardize public health, B.C. provincial health agency says

Agency refuses to release weekly COVID-19 case counts, citing privacy and public health concerns

The opening day on Mount Washington this year was Dec. 4. Screenshot
Mount Washington opens on time, COVID-19 protocols in place

“We’re super excited - it’s been six months in the planning.”

Most Read