‘Ready to take on the responsibility’: N.S. fire department welcomes first female chief

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Cape Breton fire department welcomes 1st female chief
A Cape Breton fire department has a new chief – and she’s more than ready to take on the role. Kimber MacLeod is the first female to take on the job for the Cabot Volunteer Fire Department and she’s hoping her story will inspire others to get involved. Callum Smith reports. – Apr 18, 2022

There’s a new fire chief covering part of Cape Breton, including Nova Scotia’s iconic Cabot Trail, and she’s excited and willing to take on the job.

“Never in a million years” could Kimber MacLeod see the day coming, but she became the first female to assume the post for the Cabot Volunteer Fire Department — covering the Cape North area in Victoria County — last week.

“I look to grow,” she says. “For myself, taking on this responsibility, I would love to see what I’m capable of and where I can take this department.”

While only about 10 per cent of Canadian firefighters are female, the numbers are anecdotally on the rise, says Keri Martens, the deputy chief of Canmore, Alberta’s fire and rescue service. She’s also a board member of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and chair of its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

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“We’re getting there, it’s getting better, it’s getting more diverse as the days go on,” she says. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”

The 10 per cent figure doesn’t include full-time or career-based departments, however, only reflecting composite and volunteer departments.

Martens says they’re hoping to get more detailed and specific data in the next CAFC census.

Regardless, she’s pleased they’re seeing and hearing about more stories, just like MacLeod’s, of women getting involved in the fire service.

“Which is great because the fire service should be more reflective of our society,” she says. “We’d like to see as much diversity in the Canadian fire service as we can.”

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The Cabot department has between 20 and 25 firefighters, four or five of whom are female — and a number on the rise — MacLeod says.

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Since taking over, she’s already heard from another woman seeking to join the department.

“The girls are kind of getting the word and they’re wanting to join too, and I think it’s great.”

MacLeod has a message to any other woman considering joining her department or others, starting with not second-guessing the idea.

“If somebody is telling them ‘you can’t do that,’ you know, ‘you won’t fit in,’ don’t listen to them,” she says. “You really have to prove them wrong when they’re telling you ‘you can’t do it.'”

MacLeod herself had doubts about pursuing firefighting with so many more men than women involved, but those thoughts clearly didn’t get her way when she joined the department four years ago.

“Before that, I wasn’t really interested in joining because I was nervous about going on calls I didn’t think I would be physically capable of helping somebody out of a vehicle or go into a burning house.”

“I just, I didn’t have the faith in myself. But there was a house fire in our area and, at the time, I was thinking to myself, ‘I wish there was something I could do to help out this family.'”

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Her family’s roots can perhaps explain part of her passion.

Her grandfather was a founding member in the 1950s; her other grandfather was a deputy chief, alongside her father; her sister’s boyfriend was the previous chief; and her mom was the first female firefighter to join the Cabot department.

“She really opened the doors for other females to join,” MacLeod says.

“My mom, she had mentioned to me, you know, you should join the fire department,” she says. “So, I joined, and never in a million years did I think I would take over as chief. But I’m here and I’m ready to take on the responsibility.”

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