Life after Ember Fire Academy

Many ancient civilizations had a form of organized firefighting. The earliest recorded fire services was in Ancient Rome. Firefighting became more organized from the 18th century onwards. In 1818, Molly Williams, a New York City slave, was recorded as being the first female firefighter in the United States. In the 20th century, young women in boarding houses in the United Kingdom were taught fire drills during the Second World War. Women served in the wartime fire services of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, though mostly in administrative and support roles.

After the Second World War, a second-wave of feminism and equal employment opportunity legislation removed official obstacles for women. The first female firefighter in the United Kingdom was recruited in 1976, while the first in New Zealand joined in 1981. Many fire departments required recruits to pass tough fitness tests, which became an ‘unofficial’ barrier to women joining. This led to court cases in a number of countries.Nevertheless, the percentage of women recruited by fire departments has been low. But the old boys’ club is dying out as equal opportunity and governments help encourage and provide opportunities for women to enter into the field.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a mandatory fitness test for those seeking to become firefighters in British Columbia unfairly discriminated against women. The test had been based on the physiology of male firefighters. The Court ruled that employers must show that any required workplace tests are necessary, and that there has been some effort to accommodate individuals. In Canada, women make up 3.4 per cent of firefighters. The Yukon has a vast difference however, with a high proportion of female volunteer firefighters.

“It is dependent on the year, but generally, we have estimated about 27 per cent of our 110 active members throughout the Yukon Volunteer Fire Service are women,” said a spokesperson with community services at the Yukon Government. “Yukon has one of the most diverse memberships in the Canadian Fire Services, but we continue to work towards a more diverse fire services.”

Ember Academy

Ember Fire Academy at Golden Horn Volunteer Fire Department

Female-focused camps to train young women in firefighting skills have been created by fire departments in Ottawa and London, Ontario, and have led to similar camps being established in the U.S.

In the Yukon, Ember Firefighting Academy is a challenging and exciting program for women 16 years and up. It’s a free, week-long course that exposes women to the realities of firefighting and first response in a safe and supportive environment. Whether participants are looking to explore a career in firefighting or jumpstart their physical fitness, the academy teaches new skills that can be used anywhere. Depending on the year, there can be as many as 30 volunteers participating at Ember, all from a number of Yukon’s 16 volunteer fire halls.

“Ember is in its fifth year and every year they have 12 recruits to the Ember Fire Academy,” said a spokesperson for Yukon Government’s Community Services department. “We have had 48 total recruits. After the Ember Fire Academy this year, we anticipate we will have had a total of 60 recruits over the past five years. We have had 20 recruits from the Ember Fire Academy go into the fire services, two have gone on to EMS, and two are in special operations.”

Get to know Ember 2018 Recruits (Ed. Note: Interviews were conducted last winter)

Ember Fire Academy grads Chelsea Michelle Larouche (left), Kourtney Martin and Jessica Terreberry have taken on roles with fire halls around the Yukon. PHOTO: Alistair Maitland Photography

Name: Kourtney Martin
Age: 25
Where you are from: New Brunswick

What made you join Ember last year? 
I love exploring new challenges and learning new things. I would definitely consider myself a risk-taker and I felt like the Ember Fire Academy was right up my alley.
What was the hardest thing you did during the training? 
The hardest thing I did during the training was overcoming my fear of heights by rappelling over a cliff.
What was your favourite thing you did during the training? 
This is a hard question since I loved every single thing about the training! I must say my favorite thing was vehicle extrications and live fire exercises.
What happened after Ember? 
I’ve joined Golden Horn Volunteer Fire Department. My goal is to complete my basics in order to be able to respond and continue to learn and grow as a firefighter.
What aspects of firefighting are your favourite?
 My favorite part of firefighting is being able to help the community. I also like the physical challenge firefighting has to offer since I enjoy being physically fit.

Name: Jessica Terreberry
Age: 36
Where you are from: I grew up in Welland, ON, most recently from Ottawa, ON.
What made you join Ember last year?
 I originally wanted to take the course in 2016 as a prequel to a college fire program, but Ember didn’t run that year. After graduating from Algonquin College for Pre-Service Firefighting, I was in contact with Fire Marshal James Paterson and saw it as an opportunity to further my skills, meet like-minded people and work towards a career in fire.
What was the hardest thing you did during the training? 
Sleeping at the Carcross campground after seeing bears nearby! Ha. My real answer is rope rescue and rappelling down the rock face for the first time.
What was your favourite thing you did during the training? 
Live fire and auto extrication.
What happened after Ember? 
I’m with Mount Lorne Volunteer Fire Department, passed basics working towards finishing advanced. My goal has been to work towards a career firefighter role but I’m also interested in fire prevention.
What aspects of firefighting are your favourite? 
Community involvement and fulfilment in my job. At the end of the day I feel like I can help make a difference.

Name: Chelsea Michelle Larouche
Age: 33
Where you are from: Whitehorse, Yukon
What made you join Ember last year? 
I was interested in learning more about the personal protective equipment but ended up finding the program quite empowering and decided to join the Ibex hall as a volunteer.

What was the hardest thing you did during the training? 
The hardest thing was mind over matter. You are in very hot, congested conditions. The very first exercise was a team exercise. We had two garbage bags over our heads to simulate being in a smoky fire environment and the first in line had a heat detector under their bag. Two other fire members (under two garbage bags each), held the first person’s shoulders, who held the next. The first in line had the heat detector to find an unknown heat source and had to use their voice to direct their team members and ensure they did not trip or bump into things. After the first person found their source, they had to pass the heat detector to the next person and move to the end of the line. We were under the bags for numerous minutes, sweating, with our body temperature continually rising. I am not claustrophobic, but seeing the bag so close to your face yet not being able to see anything, and experiencing your body temperature rise significantly in a short period of time was unnerving. This exercise was indoors in the middle of summer in full personal protective equipment.

What was your favourite thing you did during the training? 
I loved all of the exercises. We did auto extrication, used hydraulic tools, extinguished auto fires, confined spaces, rescuing downed firefighters/RIT [Rapid Intervention Team] team, high angle rescue, bio-hazardous materials, live burn, simulated crawling through ducts and having to maneuver around wires in full gear, 30 minutes of hard exercise each morning and 30 minutes each afternoon. We did competitions, both individually and as teams, but my favourite part of the training was how we all pushed each other. How we all grew stronger as a team and how empowered I felt at the end of the six-day program.

What happened after Ember?
 I have joined the Ibex Volunteer Hall. I’ve obtained my air brakes certification, ICS-100, and ICS-200. I’ve also completed four of the seven job performance requirements (JPR) needed to meet the basic level of fire training. Unfortunately, this time of year with the low temperatures is not the best for flowing water! I plan to have my basic level by May of 2019, as various training sessions are scheduled for the remaining JPRs. I do plan to stay with the hall, but continue with my regular day job as the administrator of  the family law information centre as well.

What aspects of firefighting are your favourite? 
My favourite aspect of firefighting is the close-knit community that you become a part of. You become part of a second family and it all began with Ember.