Stoking the fire inside

Women in the Revelstoke Fire Department give a glimpse of life on the front lines

Holly Colwell and Megan Cottingham take a minute after the fire.

Holly Colwell and Megan Cottingham take a minute after the fire.

Oshi Hampson, Holly Colwell and Megan Cottingham are here to make a difference. As volunteer firefighters at the Revelstoke Fire Department, each woman felt the pull to volunteer her time.

‘“I had no previous experience or reasoning to want to do it, other than that I desired to do something new and rewarding,” Hampson explains. “I have always tried to be involved in some sort of volunteer work because I think it’s an extremely positive and rewarding thing to do.”

Colwell wanted to join for years, but stayed back due to a personal relationship. When a member at the department recommended to her to try out, she jumped at the chance.

Cottingham grew up around the fire hall. Her father was a volunteer and, at sixteen, the previous fire chief recommended Camp Ignite to her, a week long summer camp for teenage girls run by women firefighters. “I fell in love with the work and the family environment,” she explains. Cottingham works for BC Wildfire in the summer and hopes to become a career firefighter.

Upon acceptance into the fire department, all three women commenced a rigorous training program. “I look back now on the first few months and definitely did not know what I was getting myself into. We train every Wednesday evening for an hour and a half to two hours though in the summer we have two weekend standby shifts rather than training,” Hampson explains.

Revelstoke’s fire department pays for substantial training for its recruits, sending them through the National Fire Protection Association 1001 program designed for entry level credentials into the field of fire fighting. “The group that I train with are all going through the 1001 program together so we spend a lot of time together outside of the hall and have created a pretty unique bond,” notes Hampson. “We can goof around and laugh, but when our pagers go off, I know I can rely on them to have my back and vice versa. We hope to be done the 1001 program by next summer.”

Being based in a small community on the trans canada, the fire department responds to a multitude of highway rescue calls. “Those calls can hit an emotional bone,” Colwell says. “But they can also be rewarding. You are out there helping and supporting people.”

All three women’s most memorable call out was the windstorm of last summer. “We had every apparatus, and pretty much every firefighter (volunteer and career) running around the town cleaning up call after call after call, for several hours straight,” Hampson explains. “It was fast paced yet organized and good experience to see how and why our training is so rigorous.”

“The department had never had calls like that,” Colwell explains of the storm. “It was probably near thirty calls in an hour for trees on cars, houses and power lines, trees that ripped up gas lines. It was amazing how we came together.”

“It was all hands on deck,” Cottingham agrees. “It was chaotic, but when all was said and done the fire departments rely on standards and procedures, and when followed, you can tackle the most extreme circumstances.”

Hampson, Colwell and Cottingham are all happy to represent women in fire rescue. “I really hope we are making a difference,” Cottingham says, “and that women of all ages see us and realize that, if they want to, they can do it to.”