#WomenOnFire encourages more women to become involved in emergency services careers


By Jonathan Martin


More women are being encouraged to look into a career in emergency response, and if last Saturday is any indication, the future is in good hands.

One hundred eighty women sweat their way through Amherstburg’s Libro Centre to take part in #WomenOnFire, a two-hour workshop for women interested in pursuing a career in emergency response.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Police Services, Fire Services and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) brought in their female staff to guide potential candidates through a series of physical training exercises.

Donna Desantis organized the event.  She works as a volunteer firefighter for Tecumseh Fire and as a facilities supervisor with the City of Windsor.

“I’ve been thinking about this for almost three years,” she said.  “I think diversity is critical to any organization, especially in the public service industry.  As we’re serving the community, diversity is critical to being able to network with the community, serve them and make those connections.”

All the emergency response organizations involved in the event have a gender disparity.  Fire has the lowest female-to-male ratio.  Only around three per cent of local firefighters are women, according to Desantis.

Nobody knows why the disparity exists.  Or, at least, theories vary.

Alyssa Meloche (right) hoists a 45lb hose reel up 75 feet into the air last Saturday as part of #WomenOnFire, an initiative designed to introduce women to careers in emergency services.

Desantis said she didn’t join the service until she was into her 40s.  She said between building a family and feeling that there wasn’t a place for a small-statured woman, she felt like she needed to wait.

Teresa Kolter doesn’t want her daughters to feel like they need to wait.  Penelope, 6, and Maggie, 4, had no trouble running around the training grounds and practicing their CPR on the dummies provided.

“I wanted (my daughters) to see that they can do the job just as well as the guys,” Teresa said.  She’s a paramedic.  Of the organizations present, EMS has the most female members.  More than 33 per cent of EMS responders are female.  Still, Kolter said she thinks they can do better.

“Fifty per cent of the population is female, so 50 per cent of first responders should be women,” she said.  “If we’re serving the community, we should represent it accurately.”

After seeing the response #WomenOnFire received, she said she thinks they’re well on their way.

Alyssa Meloche, 22, was one of the women who showed up to participate in the event.  She said what motivated her to give it a shot was seeing other women in the industry.

By the end of the day, she said her arms were burning, she was tired, sweaty and hot.

And she was sure that she wanted to be a firefighter.

“This was a great opportunity,” she said.  “This wasn’t something I thought I could do, but after taking part in this event, seeing all these strong women root me on and learning about the industry, I know it’s important that I pursue it.”

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