The Cumberland Wire
Collingwood woman is Cumberland County’s first female fire chief
Andrea Bishop is doing something no other woman firefighter has done in Cumberland County.
Bishop is the interim chief of the Collingwood Fire Department, becoming the first female fire chief in the county — several years after she became the first woman to hold a leadership position when she was elected deputy chief of the department.
“I wasn’t raised in a traditional family,” Bishop said. “My sister was a police officer who walked a beat on Gottingen Street in Halifax. I’m the youngest of three daughters and I wasn’t raised with the attitude I couldn’t do that because I was a girl.”
Bishop admitted to being a little apprehensive when she began training and wondered if she’d be caught up in the stereotypes and stigmas that women are not physical or strong enough to be a firefighter or her stature would prevent her from doing the things male firefighters can do.
“I’m the youngest of three daughters and I wasn’t raised with the attitude I couldn’t do that because I was a girl.”
She set out to prove any doubters wrong, although she was surprised there were very few, if any, detractors among her rural fire department near Oxford or amongst the other small departments in the county.
“It was almost the reverse, everyone was looking out for me or saying, ‘don’t carry that hose, you might hurt yourself.’ My attitude is how are you going to succeed if you don’t allow yourself to fail?” she said.
As for the critics and detractors who figure a woman can’t do what a man can do in training or at a fire scene, she has swayed them simply by doing.
Bishop became a firefighter about 15 years ago. She was heading a Scout troop in the community and was trying to recruit leaders. Her husband, who was a firefighter, agreed to join the Scouts if she joined the fire department. At the time, there weren’t a lot of women firefighters in Cumberland County.
After becoming a firefighter, she quickly became a captain and in 2018 she was elected the deputy chief by the department’s membership. Earlier this year, when the present chief took a leave of absence, the members asked her to step into the chief’s position on an interim basis.
The department has 15 members, three of whom are women — including her daughter.
She said there is plenty of room in firefighting for women.
“There’s a job there for everyone. Not every firefighter, male or female, is geared for interior attack. You have to have a certain mindset for that,” she said. “I think the more stronger role models there are for young women the greater the chances they would consider careers that are non-traditional, such as firefighting.”
Firefighting, she said, includes much more than putting out blazes. There are communications, traffic control and other support roles.
Cumberland County’s fire services co-ordinator Mike Carter is trying to bring increased diversity to the area’s 16 rural fire departments. Of the approximately 360 firefighters, Carter estimates 10 per cent are women — a number he has been trying to increase. The percentage of firefighters from minority groups is much smaller, and he is also working to recruit senior members of the community to join as well.