When fire struck her small community, this woman stepped up. Now she's the fire chief

After a fire caused extensive damage in Lodge Bay last November, residents reignited their fire department — with the first female chief at the helm.

While the men are away, women keep the home fires from burning

Niki Greeley is Lodge Bay's first female fire chief. One of her early goals is getting updated fire gear for the members. (Submitted by Niki Greeley )

Niki Greeley was frustrated watching her neighbour's property burn to the ground last November, although the event ignited a sense of responsibility for her new home in Labrador.

A major fire in November cost two Lodge Bay households close to $1 million in property losses, according to Greeley. 

The fire broke out at a tough time: the handful of volunteer firefighters were away working at the time.

"When we had our fire in November, it was myself and the ladies running around with buckets and hoses and things helping out the volunteer fire [departments from other communities] who had to come in," she said. 

As well, the gear that was left was out of date, and equipment in the fire hall failed. The equipment included two pump engines that should have provided water and an all-terrain vehicle designated to transport equipment.

Volunteer firefighters from neighbouring Mary's Harbour and Red Bay were called in to assist with the blaze.

After they extinguished one fire and left, a second blaze spread to a shed and destroyed the snowmobiles inside.

"That was when it was established that the fire department needed to be reformed," Greeley said. 

A family tradition of service

She wound up not only taking on a role in the department, but serving as its chief — the first woman in the role. Fire service is a tradition that runs in her family. 

It was myself and the ladies running around with buckets and hoses and things.- Niki Greeley 

"My father's been a volunteer firefighter, my uncle has actually started two volunteer fire departments, [and] I have a cousin who is still very active in the fire department himself," Greeley said. 

"It's been something that has always been in the background in my life." 

Fire crews from Mary's Harbour and Lodge Bay battle the flames in Lodge Bay in November. (Submitted)

Greeley says their department now has 28 members, nine of whom are women. That gives them two teams of volunteers. While 17 of the members work on rotation, or are students, 11 members, including herself, remain in the community year-round. 

"So far so good, it's a lot of paperwork," Greeley said with a chuckle. "It's been mostly me doing a lot of paperwork, doing proposals for new equipment and things like that." 

Greeley, who grew up in Nunavut and lived in Newfoundland, is a relative newcomer to Lodge Bay, where she runs her own business. She had worked in Battle Harbour during the summers as an aesthetician

Many in rural community are seniors 

Greeley estimated 60 per cent of the residents in Lodge Bay are over 60. 

The new chief, who is 33, said she can count only about 10 adults under the age of 35 in the community. 

"In terms of the younger generation, there's not a lot here, and there's not a lot of people that aren't transient in their work," Greeley said. 

"I think [seniors] were just really happy to see somebody interested in doing it. The beauty of Lodge Bay [is that] we're a very small — I think we have, like, 35 active households."

The demographics have played a role, she said, in keeping people from forming a robust department. 

"The majority of the community members aren't here year round. The majority of the people that live in Lodge [Bay] don't actually do a fishing season where they're off in the winter," she said. 

Can't rely on turnaround workers 

Many residents do turnaround work all year long and are away from the community at varying times. 

"We really don't see a lot of our 'able-bodied men,' we'll call them, here all the time," she said. 

"We know in the future if anything happens it will be the women who are going to have to be the ones stepping up to the plate." 

Greeley is doing her best to get the ball rolling for the department despite the challenges, and understands why the community might not have launched an endeavour earlier to stabilize the department.

"It can be intimidating," she said. 

The pandemic means holding fire hall meetings with new members has been put on the back burner.

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