Laval fire academy hosts open houses for women, First Nations

The provincial fire academy in Laval held open houses this weekend as part of its push to attract more women and minorities to firefighting careers.

Women make up just over 1 per cent of Montreal's fire department

Lisandre Tessier said was inspired by the women who have already paved the way for her to join a fire department. (CBC)

The provincial fire academy in Laval is making a push to attract more women and minorities to firefighting careers by hosting open houses this weekend.

At an open house on Saturday, women hoping for a shot at firefighting piled into the back of a truck as firefighting students gave them a tour of their Laval campus.

A student at the fire academy in Laval shows attendees at Saturday's open house the inside of a fire truck. (CBC)

One of the women who attended, Lisandre Tessier, said she was inspired by the female firefighters who have already paved the way for her. 

"It's not because traditionally it's biologically a bit harder to gain upper body strength, for example for women, that it should in any way be a deterrent," Tessier said.

But women currently count for only 32 of Montreal's more than 2,400 firefighters — just over one per cent.

For Caroline Lamarre, like Tessier, the idea of saving lives trumps any concerns she may have about finding a job.

"In my life, I want to say that I made a difference and I think this is the best shot to do it," Lamarre said. "Everyday, you make a difference. You help people when they really need you."

Women aren't the only underrepresented group in the Montreal Fire Department. David Shelton is the department's lone black operations chief.

Shelton remembers a time when diversity made a real difference when responding to a first-aid call from a man who only spoke Polish.

David Shelton is the Montreal fire department's only black operations chief. (CBC)

"He didn't have anyone to interpret, and one of the people on the call was able to speak Polish to him. It made him so much more comfortable, it helped us to better understand his symptoms," he recalled.

Shelton said Montreal's fire department, its union and the provincial fire academy all know that more needs to be done to attract minorities.

On Sunday, members of First Nations will also get a chance to hitch a ride on the back of a fire truck for another open house.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian