Teresa Milne has been fighting against gender norms from when she was a kid growing up with two brothers, to now as a firefighter.
When she was a child, Milne’s father would often tell her to “let the boys do it” when it came to sports or other activities as a way to ignite her ambition.
“I took that challenge to heart and have always wanted to see if I could keep up,” Milne said.
Her motivation when it comes to these challenges still holds up today. Milne joined her first fire crew in 2003 at 21 years old. She was the only woman surrounded by older, male firefighters.
“They were fine with me being there, but they were pretty convinced that I would never fit in or be a true part of the crew. I felt I had to work twice as hard and make a fraction of the number of mistakes as any other crew member in order to be taken seriously,” Milne said.
Her first three years of firefighting were extremely hard on her. Milne went home angry most days because she was told that she should not be doing certain things because she’s a woman. Still, Milne persevered and used the anger to push herself to success.
It wasn’t until her fourth year serving that she had a new supervisor who treated her as equal to everyone else. She was suddenly being encouraged to take on new roles within the crew.
Even though her job became more welcoming, Milne still has to uphold herself to a different standard because she is one of the very few women.
“You have to figure out how to lead without coming across as emotional or bossy. Be brave enough to have a voice when you are the only woman in a room of over 60 men. You feel like an imposter when you apply for or accept promotions. You have to figure out how to be pregnant and work a labour-intensive job,” Milne said.
Every decision that she makes always represents something bigger because she is a woman in a male-dominated field. One experience that stands out was when Milne was attending a meeting at the Halcyon Hot Springs hotel when she was in a supervisory officer role.
“I stressed for weeks about what was appropriate swimwear to wear for after-hour swims,” Milne said.
Throughout the nearly two decades that Milne has spent firefighting, her passion and love have only grown, even through the difficult times. She has worked in numerous leadership and wildlife technician positions.
Milne is now the acting wildfire officer for the Columbia fire zone in the BC Wildfire Service. She is also a trainee for ignitions specialist and the type 2 operations section chief on the fireline.
“Our changing fire climate needs the ideas that will come with increased diversity and more women in leadership roles,” Milne said.
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