Fighting Firefighting Expectations


By: John Hitchcock


In combing through Google I could not find a single female firefighter portrayed in either the movies or television. I contacted Ottawa firefighter Louise Hine-Schmidt and asked her about her thoughts on the challenges faced by female firefighters and the lack of female role models. This is what she had to say:


the newspaper: What inspired you to become a firefighter?

Louise Hine-Schmidt: I did not think women were allowed to become firefighters. I knew several firefighters in Ottawa and was always intrigued by the  stories of their job and I knew there were no women on the Ottawa Fire Department.  I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with the Ottawa Fire Chief and he was saying he had come from a department with several women and didn’t understand why Ottawa didn’t have any.  I  jumped at the opportunity to apply and went through two separate recruitments until I was hired 3 years later in April 1999. One of three women, the first 3 in Ottawa.


tn: What challenges are commonly faced by women in firefighting?

L H-S: In my experience, being part of the non-dominant group tends to make women stand out more. Real or perceived, the feeling can be that women are under the microscope and in some cases (but not all) are made to feel like they are held to a higher standard. 


tn: What are your thoughts on the lack of female role models for women who may be interested in this job? Do you think this has an impact on the smaller number of women in the service?

L H-S: As women we need to make an effort to seek out those role models, even if they are not in firefighting.  American astronaut Sally Ride stated: “You can’t be what you can’t see. Young women need to see role models in whatever career they choose just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday.” This is one of the main reasons behind Fire Service Women Ontario (FSWO), so women who are aspiring to become firefighters, those who are attending a Pre-Service Fire program at a college, or new female firefighters can meet women who are already working their way up the ranks in their fire departments.  FSWO is launching a new mentorship program in 2015 to line up women considering a career in the fire service with someone who has already been through the process.  FSWO and several departments have launched Camp FFIT (Female Firefighter in Training) which is  a summer camp for young women aged 15-19 to give them the experience of a week in the life of a firefighter.  This camp allows the participants to decide if firefighting is a career for them. The camps are run primarily by women, which allows the young women exposure to women in the fire service. n

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