Strathcona County Emergency Services (SCES) has had a long history with women in the service. In the 1950s, the fire brigade had both men and women. Because nearly all the men worked outside the community, it was mostly the women volunteers that responded to fire emergencies during the day. The last two original women volunteers retired from the department in 1976.
If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to be a female firefighter/paramedic, check out this interview with one of our full-time members Ione. Learn how this rural Strathcona County woman juggled a family, school and career change to become a proud member of the team.
What is your background and how long have you been a Firefighter/Paramedic?
I have been a Firefighter/Paramedic since 2015. I was a Civil Engineering Technologist for several years before that. During that time, I had started a family. As my children grew older and became more independent, I realized I too was getting older, and it was time to seek out the career I always dreamed of.
Why did you want to be a Firefighter/Paramedic?
I remember wanting to be a firefighter as young as 12 years old. I’m not sure what triggered that desire, but it was something I was passionate about and it always stuck with me.
A friend suggested I should take my EMT (now known as primary care paramedic), they felt this would be a good fit for me. I liked the idea of getting medical training first in case, as a female, I wasn’t competitive enough to get hired as a career firefighter.
During my EMT program I encountered many inspirational people, one paramedic instructor in particular encouraged me to go after my dream of being a firefighter. His advice was to give it 100%. If it worked out for me, I would have won the lottery, if it didn’t, there would be no regrets because I tried my best.
I was fortunate to get my EMT practicum with Strathcona County. Over my 5-week practicum I fell in love with EMS, firefighting and with the County’s integrated service model. The passion inside of me was ignited and I became determined to overcome any obstacles or challenges in my way. I wanted this to be my career.
I took further courses and training to achieve my required firefighter certificates and was then able to apply to SCES. I was successful during my first recruitment process and was hired on with Strathcona County… I won the lottery!
Emergency Services is a very competitive field, after a challenging six-tier recruitment process against 100 plus applicants, I was beyond ecstatic to get a job offer for one of only six full-time positions posted that year.
I feel absolutely blessed to serve in the community which I live and have called home my entire life. I enjoy volunteering for the numerous events and charities put on by our department. I’m a member of the departments Honour Guard which helps pay tribute to those who have fallen as well as represent the department in celebrations at special events and during annual ceremonies.
What does it meant to you to be a women in emergency services?
I remember being a young girl looking though the big bay doors at Fire Station 1, in awe of all the fire trucks lined up in the firehall. I now come to work and walk though that same bay, I jump on those fire trucks and respond to calls with my crew. I can’t express how very proud and fulfilled I feel to do so. I’m mindful to take a moment to appreciate what was once a distant dream for me, is now an incredible reality.
I love what I do, and I love the people I work with. It’s great to have a job you truly enjoy, it’s exciting to come to work when you are looking forward to what the shift will bring.
What is it like to be a woman in a male-dominated service?
I am the second female full-time Firefighter/Paramedic to be hired at SCES (previously women have been in part-time firefighting roles). Our first female member has been on the department since 2009, she certainly paved the way for women Firefighter/Paramedics in Strathcona County.
Women only constitute approximately 4% of firefighters nationwide, this percentage includes both volunteer and career firefighters combined. Our department holds a recruitment process almost every year.
The recruitment process is rigorous and challenging, there are minimum standards set in place which must be met or exceeded. These standards are not altered, simplified or reduced for women. Some stages of the process require that a minimal standard be met while other stages are weighed competitively, the better you do the higher you place.
Male or female we are all tested the same. In our day to day duties, we are all required to know how to operate the various apparatus and equipment, we are expected to be physically fit and able to perform all the demands of our job.
I certainly don’t feel like I’m a minority at work. It’s a comfortable, safe, fun and respectful environment. Whether male or female, we all come to work to do a job, and an amazing job it is.
Why did you choose an integrated service?
SCES has four full-time stations and two part-time stations. The full-time stations are manned 24/7, 365 days a year. Being a fully integrated service, we are all trained as both firefighters, and as either Primary Care Paramedics or as Advanced Care Paramedics. All of our fire trucks and ambulances are equipped with advanced care medical equipment and at least one Advance Care Paramedic is assigned on each apparatus in order to serve our community with the highest level of care, whether a fire truck is first on scene or an ambulance.
An integrated service model is great because we are all crossed trained and work together in the emergency medical field, within fire suppression and on rescue incidents.
For example, if we arrive on a fire scene, we know we have trained, knowledgeable paramedics on standby. We also carry all of our firefighting gear on the ambulance. If we have a large structure fire or a vehicle collision requiring extra manpower for patient extraction the ambulance crew can quickly put on their bunker gear and assist the fire/rescue crew with the immediate task at hand.
Alternatively, if we respond on the ambulance to a major medical or traumatic event, we have a fire truck respond to the incident as backup to provide extra manpower and additional skilled practitioners to help load and stabilize the patient as quickly as possible. This also gets the ambulance transporting to the hospital in a quicker manner with the least amount of downtime which can be crucial for a critical patient.
The integrated service model compliments both Fire and EMS very well. Whether it’s a fire, rescue or medical emergency, everyone responding on SCES apparatus knows what needs to be done. They understand what their roll is at the incident and that everyone on scene is able to work seamlessly, competently and productively together to resolve the emergency situation.
What advice would you give other women looking to get into emergency services?
Three things -
- Where there is a will, there is a way… if you want it bad enough, you can achieve it!
- With the right passion, desire, and determination you can do anything… work hard and stay focused.
- Your attitude will either make you or break you… pick and nourish the right one.