Volunteer’s fight finally pays off
Spaniard’s Bay fire department hires first female members
If persistence and determination are qualities that enhance her fire fighting capabilities, then Barb Hutchings has proven she qualifies for the job and then some.
Although it took a couple of years and repeated applications, she has finally been accepted as a member of the Spaniard’s Bay Volunteer Fire Department.
The experienced firefighter moved home to Spaniard’s Bay in December 2007 and almost immediately applied for membership with the department. She was turned down.
At the time she was perplexed as to why the department, which was advertising for new members would turn her down.
But she couldn’t seem to get any cut and dried answers and she was told to “keep applying.”
Frustrated, she took her story to The Compass in the winter of 2008 and was subsequently contacted by other provincial and national media.
Hutchings has more than enough experience and is only a few courses away from professional fire fighting status. While living in Alberta, she completed a number of internationally recognized fire training courses such as interior search and rescue, hazmat (hazardous materials), fire attack and flash overtraining.
It was a job she put her heart and soul into and she wasn’t about to give up.
“I’ve spent the past year putting in an application on a monthly basis. They said they’d look at it when they were looking for new members.”
Her husband Glen is an experienced firefighter as well. When the call was put out for new members this spring, they both applied and were called for interviews in early May.
“Three weeks later, May 28, we received a phone call saying, sorry, we’d have to apply again. The members voted and it was very close, but not enough.”
Meanwhile Spaniard’s Bay Town Council had been keeping an eye on the situation from a distance.
“ They weren’t really stepping in, but we were keeping them updated. Mayor John Drover asked me to call him when I found out whether or not we were accepted,” said Hutchings. And when neither of them made the grade, she did. “He said he’d bring it up in the following Monday meeting with council.”
But the mayor called an emergency meeting of council Friday, May 29.
“He considered it a safety issue and he was upset about it. He’s been very fair and understanding,” said the volunteer firefighter.
Hutchings said at Friday’s emergency meeting council decided the department would have to accept her application, but because of their experience preferably both she and her husband should be accepted.
Hutchings said she had told the fire chief: “Put yourself in my shoes. You’ve been a chief for years and you move to a new town and apply to become a member and they tell you they don’t want you...
“Council met with the fire department executive and said you’ve got these trained people... and it’s not making any sense,” she said.
“By Sunday evening council and the fire department
had it all straightened out. Fire Chief Victor Hiscock called to let me know it’s great to have both of us around.”
“I was very impressed with council and the fire chief and I feel they are standing behind us in this decision. We felt the support was very different this time.”
In fact the department voted in another woman who has no experience. Brenda Seymour is the other new female member of the Spaniard’s Bay Department.
“But her husband is a fire fighter and so she has some knowledge and she’s totally into it. I know what it was like first starting out,” Hutchings acknowledged.
So for the first time ever, Spaniard’s Bay Volunteer Fire Department has two women as members of their team.
Barb and Glenn Hutchings were welcomed to the fold along with the other five new firefighters June 4.
She and her husband are equally trained but also have different kinds of experience.
“ We’ve worked on large fires together and motor vehicle accidents. I’m more suited to the Jaws of Life and Glenn is more into technical hasmat.”
When Hutchings’ applications kept getting turned down there was some speculation as to whether or not it’s because she’s a woman. But, she said, it appears some members may have been feeling intimidated by the amount of experience she has.
Hutchings maintains she has no reason to want to push her ideas or experience on anyone. She just wants to get back to the job of volunteering and she bears no hard feelings.
“ I feel comfortable,” she said last week. “ It was just a very select few people with a close minded attitude. But we all have to work together and I’m confident I’m working with a bunch of mature adults and they appreciate what I’ve been through and my level of training.
“ It’s been a long, hard fight, but it’s been well worth it. I’m going to do my job the same as I did when I was away — step up and do what needs to be done.”
The captain of the fire department in High Level where Hutchings spent much of her time as a volunteer, sent her an email of congratulations when he heard the news.
“ His wife and I were good friends and since I left she’s died of leukemia,” Hutchings said, struggling for a moment to overcome her emotions. “ He told me... Janis would be very proud of you. When it comes to what you love in life, never take no for an answer... they’re all very proud of me up there.”
Oddly enough, the former resident of Country Road, Bay Roberts started out doing public relations education for the High Level fire department.
She spent time familiarizing younger children with the gear worn by firefighters.
It can be frightening enough for a child trapped in a building that’s on fire, she explained. But when a young child sees a suited up firefighter approaching with a breathing apparatus strapped over her face looking more like “ Darth Vader” than someone who’s coming to the rescue, it can increase their fear to the point where they can actually run back into a fire.
Hutchings spent many hours lugging her gear into classrooms to explain what each device is used for and putting on the suit one piece at a time.
Her daughter Taylor ( now 13) was in Kindergarten at the time. Her son Joey is 11.
“ So they knew me as Taylor’s and Joey’s mom. So when I got the gear all on, they knew it was just Taylor’s mom underneath it all. I’d wind up with kids climbing all over me,” she chuckled.
Then the chief asked her to take some courses. When she came out with a 98 per cent she knew her PR days were over.
“ But I’ve had to overcome my fear of heights and claustrophobia and work really hard to get here,” she said. “ So I couldn’t give up.”
NOT SO SCARY - Barb Hutchings has spent time educating younger children about fire fighting equipment. When they understand it’s someone’s mom under the mask and not “Darth Vader” it helps allay their fears in an already frightening situation.