Three “Women in Firefighting” workshops are being held in Surrey, starting on May 27. (photo: Surrey.ca)

Surrey Fire Services looks for a few good women to attend day-long workshop

‘This isn’t about quotas,’ deputy fire chief says about session, starting Saturday

Surrey Fire Service is encouraging women to explore a career in firefighting.

The department will host a trio of one-day workshops to give women “an overview of the opportunities and culture of a fire service career,” starting with a session on Saturday, May 27.

The Women in Firefighting Workshop, led by female firefighters who work in Surrey, will be repeated on June 17 and July 15, at Surrey Fire Services’ central training facility, 14923 64th Ave. The fee to register is $30, and there’s room for 20 women per workshop. Lunch will be provided.

“It is a bit of a new initiative, the first time we’ve offered specific workshops for women,” Deputy Chief Larry Thomas told the Now-Leader.

“Our city’s goal is to have a diverse, inclusive workforce, and in the fire service, females are a bit underrepresented,” he added. “So we’re trying to provide some tools that will remove the stereotypical barriers that people perceive about women in the fire service, to show them there are great employment opportunities for them in the fire service.”

During the workshop, a review of steps of the recruitment process will be discussed, and participants will receive tips from fire service fitness instructors.

Also, the physical skills of firefighters will be discussed, and attendees can experience these skills for themselves. Participants must be 19 years of age, and are asked to dress in fitness apparel for the workshop.

Without getting into numbers, Thomas said there are “quite a few” women already working in Surrey Fire Services.

“This isn’t about quotas,” he underlined.

In general, the department looks for firefighters who are mature, well educated and team oriented, according to a post on the city’s website titled “Becoming a Firefighter.”

“Firefighting has evolved a great deal in the last 20 years,” the post reads. “The number of medical assistance calls that departments like the Surrey Fire Service (SFS) attend have dramatically increased.”

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2016, SFS responded to more than 25,400 incidents related to medical assistance calls or motor vehicle accidents, according to the post. Of the 33,400 incidents reported during that time period, 8,000 calls were fire-related.

The department’s attrition rate, mostly due to retirement, is typically around 16 vacancies per year, Thomas said.

“Some years it might be a few less, some years it might be a few more,” he said. “This last year here, we’ve already conducted our hiring process and we had 22 vacancies, and we don’t know what next year holds because people don’t identify too far in advance when they’re going to retire.”

Close to 400 people apply to work with SFS every year, he said, so it’s all very competitive.

“If you haven’t been thinking about this career and you’re just trying to apply for the first time, you’re probably not going to be very competitive, regardless of your gender,” Thomas said. “You have to make this a career goal and consider pre-requisite courses and volunteer options that help make you a better candidate, and part of this workshop is devoted to explaining that to women who are interested in this as a career, to show them that there are no barriers. Anyone can do this job, you just have to be committed and dedicated to pursuing it.”

SFS does not hold similar workshops for men, Thomas said, and part of that is because of role-modeling. He believes “stereotyping barriers that don’t open the doors or eyes to women” who might think of a firefighting career probably start in early childhood.

“Most males who apply know someone who is a firefighter, and they get lots of advice and help along the way, because they play sports with them or work with them, or whatever,” he explained. “There’s not a shortage of men applying and there’s not a shortage of men who know what it takes to be successful and get hired. But on the female side of it, there aren’t as many applicants – quite a few less – and we just don’t know if they’re aware of how successful they could be if they knew what they had to do (to get the job). It’s about breaking down those stereotypes.”

For more workshop details, visit surrey.ca/culture-recreation/22855.aspx.

tom.zillich@ surreynowleader.com

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