Nfld. & Labrador

Firefighters encourage other women to sign up

After a week of controversy in Spaniard's Bay, four women shared their experiences as firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Kirby Legrow (left) and Melanie Sullivan are firefighters with the Pouch Cove Volunteer Fire Department. (Jo-Ann Dooley/CBC)

On Thursday's edition of CBC's CrossTalk phone-in, four women shared their experiences as firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Linda Leamon and Elise MacDonald from the Steady Brook-Little Rapids Regional Fire Department and Kirby LeGrow and Melanie Sullivan from the Pouch Cove Volunteer Fire Department joined host Ramona Dearing for Thursday's topic: "Would you encourage women to sign up as firefighters?"

Would you encourage women to sign up as firefighters? 50:10

The discussion came in the wake of the ongoing Spaniard's Bay controversy, and each of the four firefighters in studio weighed in on whether or not they've experienced harassment in the workplace, and if they would still encourage other women to sign up as firefighters.

A great opportunity

Kirby LeGrow, who's been a firefighter for two and a half years in Pouch Cove, said she has never experienced harassment like Brenda Seymour has alleged in the workforce.

Referring to the pornographic video that played in a Spaniard's Bay fire department training session, LeGrow said behaviour like that would not be tolerated in her department.  

"I feel like if an outside trainer came in and put a video like that on... if I didn't jump up first, it would be one of the guys sitting beside me jumping up first to say, 'Listen, this is not gonna fly here,'" said LeGrow.

"I was very surprised to hear it, and I just know it wouldn't happen at our fire hall."

She said she became a firefighter at age 39 after wanting to become one her entire life.

"I would encourage men and women who are interested in the fire service to come out and volunteer. It's a great opportunity, you make a lot of good friends, you have a lot of great training, great experiences," she said.

"I know a lot of the small fire halls around the province are looking for people, so I would encourage men and women to both apply."

Women bring unique skills to table

Melanie Sullivan is a co-worker of LeGrow's, and the daughter of Pouch Cove Volunteer Fire Department chief Derek Sullivan.

After being encouraged to join the department by her father and LeGrow, she said she decided to become a firefighter.

Sullivan said that even though she is younger and smaller than most of her colleagues, as a woman she brings a unique set of skills to the table. 

"There's so much to do, it's not just like one thing, there's multiple things that you could be doing," she said.

"I might be small, but there's a lot of things that I do that the men can't do."

Linda Leamon and Elise MacDonald of the Steady Brook-Little Rapids Regional Fire Department say they've had very positive experiences as firefighters. (Brian McHugh/CBC )

Elise MacDonald and Linda Leamon are both firefighters at the Steady Brook-Little Rapids fire department.

Both women said they've found a supportive and inclusive environment there.

Leamon said she became a firefighter around 10 years ago after her kids were old enough to stay home alone if she was on call and had to respond to an emergency.

"That's when i joined, and I love it, been there ever since," she said.  

After spending a few years in town, MacDonald said she joined the fire department after deciding she wanted to meet more people around town.

She said she overcame her initial hesitation towards joining a male-dominated department after sending her husband in to do some recon at a volunteer meeting.

"I wanted him to find out if it was a boys club," she said.

"He said, 'You know what? There's a couple women on the team, it's a really good group of people, all ages, all genders.'"

MacDonald is hopeful the incident in Spaniard's Bay is an isolated issue in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Hopefully with conversations like this and as people continue to have conversations with people that they know that are in the fire department, hopefully that will shed some light that this was an isolated incident and not how departments are run across this province."

For a full range of comments and to hear what callers thought of the issue, listen to the full recording of Thursday's CrossTalk.