Moncton Fire Department falls short on female recruits

Despite setting a goal in 2012 of having women make up 25 per cent of the Moncton Fire Department, the department is nowhere near achieving that target.

Fire chief points to lack of qualified candidates as reason only 3% of city's firefighters are women

Crystal Kennedy joined the Moncton Fire Department in 2012. The department set a target of having 25 per cent of its firefighters being women. (CBC)

The Moncton Fire Department is nowhere near achieving a goal of having 25 per cent of its firefighters being women, despite setting that target in 2012.

Only three of the department's 104 firefighters are women, giving females less than three per cent representation in the department rather than 25 per cent.

The pool of qualified firefighters that are female is not very large.- Eric Arsenault, Moncton fire chief

Fire Chief Eric Arsenault said the under-representation of females in the department is primarily due to the supply of applicants.

"The pool of qualified firefighters that are female is not very large," he said.

"I want to hire more female firefighters."

The fire chief said there is a place for more female firefighters in Moncton, or any other service

"It's just a matter of being persistent and continuing to look [for candidates]," he said.

No specific recruiting

Arsenault says his department doesn't undertake any recruiting efforts specifically targeting women. He relies on local media and school presentations, among other methods, to bring in his staff.

While a small pool of female recruits is one of the barriers he faces, another is simply his budget.

Moncton fire chief Eric Arsenault set a goal in 2012 of having women comprise 25 per cent of his department. (CBC)
Arsenault says he's like to add more firefighters, but said, "We need vacant positions to hire and there are cost implications to that."

He says he has to wait for retirements, for example, before posting a vacancy.

Another reason there might be fewer women becoming firefighters than there are becoming police officers or paramedics is the physical requirements, he said. All recruits, male or female, face the same fitness tests.

"This might be more challenging, but it's far from impossible."

Creating different standards based on gender can pose problems, said Arsenault. He feels it's important that all women recruits earn their jobs based on their abilities.

"They have to be able to say, "I'm here because I can do this job."

Arsenault said other departments struggle with the same hiring issue.

Arsenault doesn't fee the force will achieve the 25 per cent complement of female firefighters during his tenure as he plans to retire in a few years.

Newfoundland incident

Arsenault said a recent incident in Newfoundland does not reflect the work environment for female firefighters in Moncton.

The small town of Spaniard's Bay, NL, has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment within their volunteer fire department. Their lone female member has gone public with her story and divided public opinion.

Moncton has 25 times the population of Spaniard's Bay, but only two more female firefighters than the Newfoundland community.

Crystal Kennedy joined the Moncton Fire Department in 2012 and says she appreciates the respect she receives from colleagues.

I work with three amazing guys on my crew.- Crystal Kennedy, Moncton fire fighter

"I work with three amazing guys on my crew. They're honestly like family," she said.

"My captain's like a father figure and the other two guys are like brothers. There's a time to be serious, but it's a fun environment."

Wendy Barton, left, and Sharon Kelly are two of the three female firefighters on the Moncton Fire Department. (CBC)
Wendy Barton comes from a family of firefighters. She's only been with the department since July and says she recognizes that she works in a male-dominated profession and isn't fazed by recent stories of harassment.

"I think it's unfortunate that there's some negative stories going on right now, but we're here to say there's positive stories as well. There's great departments. Everyone's been helpful for us," Barton says.

Firefighter Sharon Kelly says she believes there will come a day when women will make up a significant portion of fire departments, the same way they contribute as other first responders like police and paramedics.

Role model

She sees herself as a role model and takes the job seriously.

"If it's your dream, then pursue your dreams," she says.

"Don't let anything get in your way."

Kennedy says she's heard stories of male chauvinistic attitudes in fire departments of the past and was shocked to hear of similar attitudes prevailing in 2016.

Kennedy says that shouldn't scare off other women considering the profession.

"This is a great career. Male or female, I think  it's a job that you've got to be motivated to do," she says.

"You've got to have pride … If you can have those qualities, I think it's a good career for you."


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