Rutland Senior Secondary student Kevin Millard pulls a coiled firehouse up the side of a building as part of the firefighter training. - Credit: Carli Berry/Capital News

Kelowna’s first female structural firefighter to join department

Students got a taste of firefighting Wednesday as part of the annual boot camp

The first woman to take on a full time firefighting role in Kelowna starts Monday.

Firefighting is currently a male-dominated industry. A report in 2015 indicated that less than four per cent of Canada’s firefighters are women. At Kelowna’s firehalls the number is even lower.

Until this week, the city fire stations had no women employed as structural firefighters. There are, however, two women firefighters at the airport, which isn’t the city’s jurisdiction. There are also two paid on-call women fire-fighters.

Only about 30 of 500 candidates that apply for full-time firefighter roles are women, said Rick Euper, fire line safety fire inspector.

Fire prevention officer Gayanne Pacholzuk said there is a stigma around firefighting that may prevent women from applying for jobs in the field.

“I think the days are gone of being the fastest and the strongest person out there. There’s a lot more to firefighting rather than just the brawn anymore,” she said.

“I am the biggest advocate for women in the fire service and I tell these young girls ‘look, you just have to be fit’… it doesn’t mean I have to lift (people) over our shoulders like in the old days.”

Camps like Camp Ignite, a youth mentorship program for girls, is run by female firefighters in the Lower Mainland focuses on enticing young women into the firefighting service, she said.

In her more than 20 years in the firefighting service, part of which was served as a firefighter at Kelowna’s airport, she said she never face discrimination.

At an annual firefighting bootcamp that involved local highschool students, there were some who showed that there was an appetite Rutland Senior Secondary student Carlie Dudych hopes to change that number.

“I always found it very interesting, I love helping people… it’s definitely something I want to do,” she said. “I love being hands on.”

Dudych is a junior on-call firefighter with the Joe Rich department and said it was exciting to hear the news of a new female firefighter in Kelowna.

She sharpened her skills at the annual firefighter boot camp, which took place Wednesday, April 18 at Station 1 on Enterprise Way. Around 75 Grade 9 to 12 students from across the district, a quarter of them were girls, were given the opportunity to carry a firehose, drag a dummy, scramble a ladder on one of the firetrucks and haul a hose up a three-storey building.

“We just don’t see it here, they’re my family, they’re my friends.”

“If they can pass the physical exams and the testing, they’re as good as anyone else,” Euper said.

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