November 9, 2013 12:16 pm
Updated: November 9, 2013 12:38 pm

Whistler’s new fire chief hopes to inspire other women to become firefighters

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One of B.C.’s only female fire chiefs is hoping to inspire other women to join a field that is still mainly dominated by men.

Sheila Kirkwood became the province’s first female firefighter in 1990. Now, the trailblazer is set to become chief of Whistler’s fire department.

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“It’s a great opportunity for me to play a greater leadership role within the department and in the community, but it’s also an opportunity to serve as a role model for women who might be considering entering a career in the fire service,” Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood has risen through the ranks despite dealing with the challenges of working in a male-dominated field.

She said she hasn’t faced any bullying, but other female fire fighters have.

Less than a decade ago, four women firefighters in Richmond were off the job amid harassment allegations.

“The fire service has had a lot of media attention on some negative aspects around harassment and hazing, but what we have to remember is that those were very isolated incidents… it doesn’t reflect the general environment of progressive firefighters today,” Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood said while her leadership style will be different, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the fact that she’s a woman.

“We’re not going to be wearing pink shirts. Will my leadership style be different? Sure, I’m a different person. I’ll probably approach things in a more collaborative style say than that commanding control style. But that’s not necessarily a difference in how a male’s going to approach it to how a female is going to approach it, that’s just my leadership style,” she said.

Kirkwood hopes that one day gender won’t be an issue in fire departments.

“Where I can use that as an opportunity to be a positive role model is terrific,” she said. “What will be even more rewarding to me is when a story like this is not really a story anymore.”

With files from Catherine Urquhart

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