The first woman to take on a full time firefighting role in Kelowna starts Monday.
Until the yet-to-be named woman starts work next week, the number of women employed locally as structural firefighters sits at zero, though there are two paid-on-call firefighters. There are also two women working as firefighters at the airport, which isn’t the city’s jurisdiction.
Only 30 of 500 candidates that apply for full-time firefighter roles are women, said Rick Euper, fire line safety fire inspector.
It’s not too far off the picture, nationally. A report in 2015 indicated that less than four per cent of Canada’s firefighters are women.Fire prevention officer Gayanne Pacholzuk said there is a stigma around firefighting that may prevent women from applying for jobs in the field.
“I think the days are gone of being the fastest and the strongest person out there. There’s a lot more to firefighting rather than just the brawn anymore,” she said.
“I am the biggest advocate for women in the fire service and I tell these young girls ‘look, you just have to be fit’… it doesn’t mean I have to lift (people) over our shoulders like in the old days.”
Camps like Camp Ignite, a youth mentorship program for girls, is run by female firefighters in the Lower Mainland focuses on enticing young women into the firefighting service, she said.
In her more than 20 years in the firefighting service, part of which was served as a firefighter at Kelowna’s airport, she said she never face discrimination.
At an annual firefighting bootcamp that involved local highschool students, there were some who showed that there was an appetite Rutland Senior Secondary student Carlie Dudych hopes to change that number.
“I always found it very interesting, I love helping people… it’s definitely something I want to do,” she said. “I love being hands on.”
Dudych is a junior on-call firefighter with the Joe Rich department and said it was exciting to hear the news of a new female firefighter in Kelowna.
She sharpened her skills at the annual firefighter boot camp, which took place Wednesday, April 18 at Station 1 on Enterprise Way. Around 75 Grade 9 to 12 students from across the district, a quarter of them were girls, were given the opportunity to carry a firehose, drag a dummy, scramble a ladder on one of the firetrucks and haul a hose up a three-storey building.
“We just don’t see it here, they’re my family, they’re my friends.”
“If they can pass the physical exams and the testing, they’re as good as anyone else,” Euper said.
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