Aspiring female firefighter extinguishes stereotypes

PENTICTON — In this scorching summer weather, Payton Nackoney, 17, has traded in a t-shirt, shorts and sandles for a heavy firefighting uniform and boots. Penticton firefighters are providing Nackoney with some basic firefighter’s training before she heads to Vancouver for a special camp designed to mentor teenage girls who are interested in the fire service.

On Thursday and Friday, Nackoney got a chance to do ride-alongs, rescue simulations and vehicle extractions.

“It’s a lot of adrenaline. It makes you a bit nervous, but it’s exciting at the same time because you’re helping someone,” says Nackoney.

Penticton fire chief Wayne Williams says the industry has traditionally been, and still is, dominated by men. But he’s been hoping to change this.

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“We purposefully say in our advertisements that we’re looking for men and women for the fire service, but unfortunately, we haven’t been able to attract women,” says Williams.

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The Penticton fire department has one female firefighter. Jody Fotherby became the first and only full-time female firefighter 19 years ago — no other women have joined her since. This leaves her scratching her head.

“I’m not sure why women aren’t applying for the fire service, or minorities, in general,” Fotherby says.

However, Nackoney’s passion for firefighting burns brightly.

“It’s exciting for me to think that there is a young woman that’s really interested in getting into the fire service at one point in her life. I would like to challenge other girls to do the same because it is a rewarding career,” says Fotherby.

Nackoney wants to use this career choice to empower other young women.

“I think females can have the same fitness level. They can be fit and strong, and they can accomplish the same things as a male firefighter,” she says.

Nackoney will be one of 20 teenage girls participating in Camp Ignite.

Her camp tuition and travel expenses are being sponsored by the Penticton firefighters’ union, auxiliary firefighters and the City of Penticton.

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