Women getting ready to answer the bell
International Day of the Girl showcases career options
I’LL be honest. I had never heard of the International Day of the Girl. Have you? With a little bit of quick research, I learned that in 2012, the United Nations declared Oct. 11 of each year as a time to observe and support the awareness of gender-equality issues, especially in developing countries. The International Day of the Girl was also designed to celebrate the fact that girls and women are finally being accepted as a distinct focus when developing government policy and programming. Today, you’ll even see a focus on girls and women in the various election campaigns. Whereas, in years prior, issues related to women were simply a sidebar.
The theme for 2018 is “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce.”
It’s a day to promote girls’ empowerment and to help young women see a future as part of our ever-changing world of work. And, whereas there are still some industry sectors such as policing, the military and firefighting that struggle to attract women, the International Day of the Girl also helps employers and professional associations think about and evaluate ways in which to make their industry more interesting to young women.
Our local city of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is a good example of ongoing efforts to integrate women into its workforce. For instance, 35.8 per cent of the current paramedic teams are women, while 5.5 per cent of frontline firefighters are women. Fire Chief John Lane indicated that at this point in time, women are also moving into the leadership ranks within the service and that the idea of women in their workforce is no longer an issue; it’s simply the normal way of doing things.
At the same time, Lane stated that having women in the workforce has been very positive, as this brings more diversity of ideas and skill sets. Making work accommodations for female staff has not been a significant problem. Most fire-paramedic stations are now equipped for personal privacy, while other workarounds have been put in place.
I was also surprised to learn that becoming a firefighter and paramedic requires significant training. Both male and female candidates typically have higher levels of education and receive specialized training at an accredited school prior to applying to the city. In addition, candidates must pass a physical fitness assessment.
Once accepted at the city, successful candidates undergo an eight-week orientation on local agency policies, procedures and equipment. They also have the opportunity to receive even more specialized training in areas such as technical rescue, water rescue and hazardous materials.
Laura Loeppky, one of the earliest female firefighters in Winnipeg, is now an acting lieutenant and is extremely happy with her 23 years of service. In fact, she says she is living the job she dreamed about since she was a young girl. Being physically active and an athlete, Loeppky knew this was the right choice for her.
Loeppky said being a woman within a typically male-dominated job sector has never been a problem for her. She says it’s no different than being part of a big family of brothers and sisters. Lots of good times, some natural squabbles, all good friendship and support and teamwork when you need it.
Loeppky also indicated that all of her colleagues are very dedicated to their profession, they strive to be an effective team, they love being physically active and they spend a good amount of time learning and doing drills on various techniques and debriefing crisis situations to improve work principles.
Finally, Loeppky suggested the profession of firefighting and paramedicine are good ones for women because of the shift work. In her case, shift work facilitated her ability to be home for her children for a good deal of time. While stations are staffed 24 hours a day, firefighters work shifts that include two 10-hour days and two
14-hour nights, while paramedics work
12-hour shifts. Recognizing that the statistics show a need for an increase of women working in the firefighting and paramedic professions, the Manitoba Status of Women Secretariat (MSW) proposed to the city fire-paramedic service that the Day of the Girl could be celebrated by arranging for groups of young girls to visit a fire-paramedic station and learn about the occupations of firefighter and paramedic.
Thus, students from Hedges Middle School in the St. James School Division, Robertson School in the Winnipeg One School Division and Bernie Wolfe School in the Transcona Springfield School Division enjoyed a three-hour “hands-on” tour of the world of firefighting and paramedics on Oct. 11.
There was a good deal of laughter and a lot of good questions from the girls as they interacted with the teams of firefighters and paramedics. Students toured the buildings, tried on different pieces of work gear; experienced the weight of a firehose, the boots and the helmets; and began to learn the basics of CPR. All of these activities were followed by a light lunch and a special question-andanswer period on what firefighters and paramedics do.
Students were surprised to learn how professionalized this industry has become, and that extensive training is required by all members. They were also surprised at the breadth of activities included in these jobs, such as fire inspections, public education, community outreach, arson investigation, emergency medical response, water rescue and community and tactical paramedicine.
Trying on some of the heavy equipment helped the girls realize why being physically fit is so important to being successful on the job. In speaking to the professionals in attendance, the girls also learned firefighters and paramedics also need to have good emotional strengths, be good team members, think quickly under pressure and be confident in challenging environments.
It was also interesting to listen to the students as they asked about the fireparamedic station facilities, and why these buildings are considered a “home away from home” for employees. As Loeppky indicated, it is important that stations are staffed 24 hours a day, so that when an emergency arises, staff are ready and available. The professionals could be busy studying a new procedure, but once the alarm bell rings, they need to drop everything and get to the emergency as soon as possible.
While the student tours were brief, they were well received as a good learning experience. For the city fireparamedic service, it was a good way to directly demonstrate that firefighting and being a paramedic are highly rewarding occupations open to both men and women who are interested in a physically and mentally demanding job, but one where camaraderie and teamwork are paramount.
The International Day of the Girl was established by the United Nations to promote the empowerment of women in developing countries, and was the spark that lit up the idea for the student visits to a fire-paramedic station. On the other hand, participation in the day’s event also made all of the participants realize that young Canadian girls and women can choose any occupation they wish. So, with this thought in mind, we’ll hopefully see the number of female firefighters and paramedics continue to increase in the future.
Grade 6 student Zola Desjarlais (centre) shows her surprise at the weight of an oxygen tank during a tour of No. 11 Fire Station on Thursday.