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.

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