Vol­un­teer’s fight fi­nally pays off

Spa­niard’s Bay fire depart­ment hires first fe­male mem­bers

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY LIL­LIAN SIM­MONS

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.

Coun­cil de­cides

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.”

Ed­u­ca­tion

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.”

Photo sub­mit­ted

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.

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