Former mining instructor criticizes Sudbury fire department for gender discrimination

Greater Sudbury Fire Services is responding to criticism that its testing required to become a firefighter discriminates against women.

Lionel Rudd says the tests Beaver Lake woman failed in her bid to become a firefighter were discriminatory

A retired mining instructor says firefighter testing in Sudbury is unfairly weighted against women, something the fire service denies. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Greater Sudbury Fire Services is responding to criticism that its testing required to become a firefighter discriminates against women.

During one of the city's public meetings on the ongoing fire optimization plan, a woman from Beaver Lake mentioned that she had failed in her bid to become a volunteer firefighter. Despite having a background in nursing and other qualifications, she failed the physical test by two minutes.

That prompted Lionel Rudd, a retired mining engineering instructor to write a letter to the city arguing that the testing process was not designed to test men and women equally.

"They put her through some physical tests that were designed by a man, for men," he told CBC News.

The fire service in Sudbury employs 22 female volunteer firefighters and three full-time, career firefighters.

Rudd, who said he has trained both men and women in mining engineering and safety, said he can't understand why so few women make the grade for the fire service, when so many excelled in the mines, which also featured physically-demanding work in tough conditions.

"So it's high time to change the management of our fire service and the culture of gender discrimination too that has infected the service," he said in his letter.

"It is totally unsatisfactory and contrary to all concepts of equality and human rights to discriminate based on gender."

'We work together'

Fire officials with the city reject the notion that the standards in place are unreasonably weighted against women joining the ranks, and maintained that they're in place to ensure firefighters that get hired are able to competently do the job.

I don't think we should be relaxing our standards-Acting deputy fire chief Kate Wilkins

"We're in the business of training competent firefighters not in the business of training men or women separately," Kate Wilkins, the acting deputy chief and a training officer, told CBC News.

"We work together."

Wilkins added that being a firefighter is physically demanding, requiring training in forcible entry — breaking open locked doors — carrying and deploying fully-pressurized hoses and other heavy equipment and carrying people who are in distress. All of that is done while in full gear.

"I don't think we should be relaxing our standards," Wilkins continued.
Kate Wilkins is the acting deputy fire chief and a training officer for Greater Sudbury Fire Services. (Angela Gemmill / CBC)

"The standards are in place and in line with industry best practices and the job is difficult but I think a lot of people are very capable of it."

Wilkins said minutes can mean the difference between life and death for a victim waiting to be rescued.

Still, she encouraged anyone who is interested in becoming a firefighter to try out and said anyone who has failed the physical test should try again.

With files from Angela Gemmill