No bar­ri­ers stand­ing in the way for fe­male fire chief

Jodie Matthews of Pac­quet proud to lead

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - Front Page - BY CORY HUR­LEY

PAC­QUET, NL — Jodie Matthews says the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “fe­male” fire chief is not nec­es­sary to sep­a­rate her from any other leader in the prov­ince, but she is proud of the ti­tle and its sig­nif­i­cance none­the­less.

There is not a lot the woman from Pac­quet be­lieves she can’t do – es­pe­cially not be­cause she is a woman.

“I don’t think gen­der mat­ters at all in do­ing the job,” she said. “We still have the is­sue with most peo­ple think­ing it is a man’s job, but I only think it mat­ters that the job is get­ting done.

“I am not a boss. I am not their boss. A fire chief is sim­ply a leader. If you can’t lead your crew, there is sim­ply no place for you.”

Pac­quet is a small, iso­lated town in White Bay on the Baie Verte Penin­sula. His­tor­i­cally, it is a fish­ing and log­ging com­mu­nity.

Like many towns in this prov­ince with those roots, its story is one of a de­pleted and ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. That’s part of the rea­son Matthews is now its fire chief, but also why she says it’s im­por­tant to show young girls and other women of ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador they can do any­thing they set their minds to.

“That’s a lit­tle bit touchy,” said Matthews. “Ninety per cent of our com­mu­nity are se­nior cit­i­zens, and a lot of them still live in the day where fe­males be­long in the kitchen or rais­ing kids.”

There are no other women on the Pac­quet fire de­part­ment. Matthews is only aware of two other fe­male fire chiefs ever be­ing in the prov­ince, and nei­ther are cur­rently chief.

Com­mu­nity sup­port Through­out the com­mu­nity and on the de­part­ment, Matthews

COM­MU­NITY

says she has been ac­cepted and sup­ported.

“Al­most ev­ery per­son I have spo­ken to and in­ter­acted with since Novem­ber, they have been noth­ing but sup­port­ive,” she said. “They be­lieve that our fire de­part­ment will ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions. We are do­ing well.”

Matthews signed on to the de­part­ment as its sec­re­tary about five years ago. An ac­tive vol­un­teer in the com­mu­nity, she nat­u­rally wanted to help out with one of the town’s most pre­dom­i­nant or­ga­ni­za­tions. She went about her busi­ness in the back­ground, at that point never re­ally con­sid­er­ing a front-line po­si­tion with the de­part­ment.

Last Novem­ber, then-fire chief Colin Greenham re­signed. No­body stepped for­ward to fill the va­cant po­si­tion. Matthews even­tu­ally served as act­ing fire chief for the hol­i­day sea­son, and she has re­mained in the po­si­tion since then.

“If your town does not have a fire de­part­ment, you are not safe, but also home in­sur­ance will go through the roof,” she said of why she stepped for­ward. “We are try­ing to keep our fire de­part­ment to­gether, so why not get in­volved. It is hard work, but it is re­ward­ing.”

There are 12 fire­fight­ers on the Pac­quet Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment, and Matthews has found a re­place­ment for her for­mer sec­re­tar­ial du­ties. Most of the mem­bers are fish­er­men who have busy lives out­side of the de­part­ment, which poses one of the big­gest chal­lenges for the small de­part­ment.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Mem­bers of the Pac­quet Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment par­tic­i­pat­ing in a train­ing ex­er­cise.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Fire Chief Jodie Matthews of Pac­quet is lead­ing the way for women in the fire­fight­ing pro­fes­sion.

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