Record number of women attending local firefighter school

Nearly one-quarter of the students enrolled in a Lambton College fire course this fall are women, including firefighter-in-training Mariah Olczak. Submitted Photo

Phil Egan

Some are drawn by the excitement. Others want to prove they can do anything a man can. And some are daughters and sisters of firefighters maintaining a family tradition.

This fall, 23 young women are enrolled in the pre-service firefighter training course at Lambton College. That is by far a new record high, and part of a growing trend as women in helmets and bunker gear increasingly take their place in Canadian fire halls.

Kim Hargrove, a firefighter with Sarnia Fire Rescue, said she was one of five women in the course when she attended Lambton just four years ago.

Today, she is surrounded by male colleagues who accept her as a trained and competent firefighter, she said.

Nearly one in four students enrolled in the pre-service course this year are women, and the college’s two-year Fire Science program – a more in-depth study of the physical nature of fire – is already producing female superstars like Mackenzie Baker.

The 20-year-old said she fell in love with firefighting while attending a Camp FFIT (Female Firefighters in Training) after high school.

The summer camps held in cities across Ontario give women age 15 to19 a taste of the gruelling physical requirements of firefighting.

Many of the women trainees at Lambton have participated in one or more FFIT camps, so they’ve already fought fires in bunker gear and rappelled from burning buildings.

Baker is the lone woman on a five-member Lambton team about to compete in the Scott FireFit Championships in Louisville, Kentucky this month. The competitions are based on tasks commonly performed in emergency situations and routinely draws more than 100 international competitors, including fire departments, individuals and a handful of colleges such as Lambton.

Last year, the college’s women’s relay team, racing in full bunker gear and breathing apparatus, brought home a silver medal from national competitions in Calgary, and a bronze from the world championships in Alabama.

Sue Patrick, a 20-year physical education instructor at Lambton College, has seen the number of female firefighters in training steadily rise over the years. She points to the award-laden Mackenzie Baker as evidence of what women can accomplish.

And according to the CBC, the top three graduates at the Toronto Fire Service last year were all women.