Firefighting for females

They’re learning the basics – extinguishing fires, using breathing apparatus, undertaking flood rescues, abseiling down cliffs – everything an emergency services officer would need to excel at the job.

The difference is, these participants are young girls, aged between 15 and 17.

The group of 20 has been testing their mettle at the inaugural fire and emergency services girls camp at Yarramundi on Springwood Road this week.

The camp is the brainchild of Bronnie Mackintosh, a station officer with Fire & Rescue NSW, who founded Girls On Fire, a not-for-profit organisation designed to introduce and recruit young women to the service.

Mackintosh said about 95 per cent of firefighters in NSW were white males. At the same time, research has shown that firefighters serve their communities better if they look, speak and act like them.

So she is passionate about increasing both the number of women and different ethnic groups in the fire service, to create a more diverse, inclusive and effective workforce.

“It is an issue in the emergency services because there are not enough young girls knowing this is a viable career option," she said.

"They don't have any role models. You can't be what you can't see and so we are trying to create a platform for young women at a vulnerable age to see women firefighters."

The girls, from across NSW, were learning teamwork, leadership and problem solving as well as the physical skills, reflecting the fact that firefighting only makes up a very small proportion of a firefighter’s work.

Other tasks include fire and rescue education; home fire safety and building compliance checks; industrial, domestic and motor vehicle rescue; and working alongside police, ambulance and state emergency services.

“We actually save more lives through prevention, preparedness and recovery than we do in the 7 per cent fighting fires response phase of our role," said Ms Mackintosh. "You don’t need to be a six-foot white male to do any of that."

Kaliyah Odlum, 17, from Young, said the course and the high-rope component had already pushed a number of people out of their comfort zones.

"It has been different. All the people here are really good people and welcoming. It’s challenging but fun," she said.

Bella Myers, 16, said she was looking forward to learning flood rescue skills and could see a career in firefighting as a great way to help her community.

"I live across the road from a national park wildlife reserve and it always worries me a bit in summer that someone might go over there and light the place up," she said.

NSW Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant said the government had already seen the improvements of recruiting more women into emergency service roles.

"Not only has this made us more versatile and broadened our capabilities, it's also really made a significant impact on the culture in our fire stations," he said.

The camp is being led by volunteers from the NSW Rural Fire Service, Fire & Rescue NSW and NSW SES. It runs until Sunday.

  • with Ben Weir, SMH
This story Firefighting for females first appeared on Blue Mountains Gazette.