Anne Barry, fire­fighter, 1952

The New Zealand Herald - - News - — Joanna Hunkin

Anne Barry has spent most of her adult life fight­ing fires. But in her big­gest bat­tle she blazed a trail of her own in 1981, when she be­came the first fe­male fire­fighter in the Com­mon­wealth.

It took three years of per­sis­tence and ap­peals to the Equal Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mis­sion, the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion and Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment be­fore she was ac­cepted into the fire ser­vice re­cruit­ment course.

Barry re­calls the se­vere re­sis­tance to women join­ing the Fire Ser­vice, say­ing: “In their words, they said they weren’t go­ing to have fire sta­tions turned into beds of sin, that they weren’t go­ing to have men­strual cy­cles on fire sta­tions and they didn’t want women faint­ing at mo­tor ac­ci­dents.”

Work­ing in the con­trol room for the Auck­land Fire Brigade, Barry was in her mid20s when she de­cided she’d rather be out in the field, amongst the ac­tion.

She en­rolled in a fire

engi­neer­ing de­gree. But still she was re­jected, on the ba­sis of height.

“I was an inch too short,” she re­calls. Yet some­how there were dozens of male fire­fight­ers who were the same height or shorter than Barry. “They had come in the back door be­ing chiefs’ sons, deputies’ sons, etc,” she ex­plains.

When that ex­cuse failed to wash, the Fire Ser­vice

re­jected Barry again, claim­ing she had poor eye­sight.

“An­other let­ter came back say­ing my left eye was slightly weaker than my right eye, I had astig­ma­tism.”

Barry sought a sec­ond, third and fourth opin­ion from other op­tometrists, all of whom con­firmed her eyes were fine. “It made me dig my heels in,” says Barry.

In 1978, she took her case to the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, which spent three years bat­tling the Fire Ser­vice be­fore Barry was fi­nally ac­cepted into the re­cruit­ment course in 1981, be­com­ing the first fe­male fire­fighter in the Com­mon­wealth.

But Barry’s strug­gle con­tin­ued. “There were men I knew through the com­mu­ni­ca­tion cen­tre who en­cour­aged me to ap­ply but stopped talk­ing to me when I got the job — I guess they thought I wouldn’t get in.

“For the first three years I was for­ever try­ing to prove my­self. I’d run as soon as the siren went to lift the heav­i­est thing.”

To­day, there are more than 100 fe­male fire­fight­ers in the NZ Fire Ser­vice. But Barry says she never set out to be a trail­blazer.

“I did it for my­self. It just hap­pened to be that I’ve opened the door for other women,” ex­plains Barry, who re­tired in 1999 af­ter 22 years’ ac­tive ser­vice.

“I knew I was in the right, the Fire Ser­vice was wrong so I fought for it and won.”

Anne Barry was the first fe­male fire­fighter in the Com­mon­wealth.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.