A group made up mostly of women gathered at the London Fire Training Complex for hands-on training in attacking fires, managing hoses, and extracting people from crashed or burning cars.
Fire Service Women Ontario is hosting its female-focused annual firefighting conference in London both Friday and Saturday, bringing members from all across the country together in an effort to help women integrate more effectively in the male-dominated industry.
“We offer a different type of training atmosphere,” explained board member and London Fire Department firefighter Allison Vickerd. She’s set to receive the President’s Trailblazer Award Friday night, for her pioneering efforts in educating, empowering and encouraging women in the fire service across Canada.
“A lot of the time, women judge themselves a lot harsher. So it’s not necessarily the pressure from the crews or from the men they’re working with, but it’s the pressure we put on ourselves to perform to a higher standard.”
It may be easier for some to feel comfortable making mistakes, Vickerd explained. It also helps women address feelings of isolation, since they make up just four per cent of fire departments across the country.
“A lot of women at this conference are the only women at their department,” said Fire Service Women Ontario president and founding member, Louise-Hine Schmidt.
“Although efforts have aimed to increase the presence of women in the Canadian fire service, the numbers are still lower than every other Emergency Service including law enforcement, paramedicine, and the military.”
So just to be around other women in the same profession can be inspiring, she explained.
Hine-Schmidt helped create the organization back in 2009, originally as an apprenticeship program for women between 15 and 19-years-old. But as time went by, she realized women who already had their foot in the door expressed a need for mentorship too.
Their membership has grown to 285 members, 130 of whom registered for this weekend’s 7th annual conference.
London falls in line with the nationwide standard: women account for four per cent of firefighters in the city, with just 15 females making up part of the 360 member department.
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