Alison Larkin, P.E.I.'s 1st female fire chief: No more 'boys club'
'It doesn't matter, man or woman, we're equally as capable,' says the 27-year-old
At just 27 years old, P.E.I. resident Alison Larkin was already a 10-year veteran of the North Rustico Fire Department and looking for a new challenge.
The new mom — her son Garrett is seven months old — had also been a paramedic for seven years, so she knows how to respond quickly to emergencies and doesn't mind the stress. Two months ago, the town appointed her fire chief.
When a woman takes leadership in a field that has traditionally thought of as men's work, that's all the more exciting.— Jane Ledwell, Status of Women
"The opportunity came up, and I just took it," said Larkin. "I figured that I could do that. I like people, I can manage people, and that's kind of what my role is now."
Larkin loves to stay busy or she gets "antsy." And she's not required to go on every call.
She's in charge of 33 volunteer firefighters who meet every Tuesday at the local fire hall for training. They also raised money for firefighting equipment — right now, they're in the midst of a successful Chase the Ace lottery — as well as, of course, responding to more than 100 calls a year, most of them medical rather than fire-related.
Wants more women firefighters
"I feel that a long time ago, it was more known as a boys club, and you come and hang out, when really now it's more geared toward training, and doing a lot of work and making sure everyone knows what's going on and what they're doing," she said.
"Don't get me wrong — hanging out, and good morale and being friends is important as well."
There are nine female firefighters in North Rustico, and about 65 Island-wide, Larkin said. She'd like to see that number grow.
"There's always a place in the department for women," she said.
'Everyone's been very helpful'
As for those who think women aren't physically up to the job, "They're crazy," Larkin said with a laugh. "It doesn't matter, man or woman, we're equally as capable."
Volunteering as a firefighter can help anyone build confidence and other valuable skills, she added.
When asked if she think she faces any additional challenges being a woman in the high-ranking role, Larkin said, "I'm sure I will, I haven't yet. Everyone's been very helpful."
Firefighters have been coming to meetings and training and calls, so "things are going pretty good." she said.
"Women do bring a different aspect to the department, especially on medical calls" she added. "Just a softer touch, maybe. Sometimes women are more approachable."
'Terrific role model'
Jane Ledwell from P.E.I.'s Advisory Council on the Status of Women said Larkin is a "terrific role model" for younger women and others who might not have imagined themselves as firefighters.
"We are so thrilled to see Alison Larkin has been named P.E.I.'s first female fire chief," she said.
"When a woman takes leadership in a field that has traditionally thought of as men's work, that's all the more exciting."
Larkin's partner, carpenter Rodney Pineau, has been supportive of her time at the firehall. And her son tags along and mostly sleeps through her meetings, she said.
"It is rewarding. We get to see the community," she said, noting there is a small honorarium and a tax write-off for all P.E.I. firefighters who put in at least 200 hours a year.
The town recently held a reception at the fire hall to honour Larkin's appointment.
"Thank you everyone for all the support," she said. "The media coverage has been a little crazy ... I knew it was a big deal, me being first female ... there's no need to be in the spotlight all the time."