Top News

Women in the firehouse


It's a man's job. If you're not fit for it, stay away. And if you can't take a joke, you don't belong in the crew.

That just about sums up the attitude many female firefighters are still encountering in Canada in the 21st century.

It's not universal. Every now and then, one will pop up to say everything's fine - that the men are treating her with total respect, and that camaraderie and morale couldn't be better.

All too often, though, we hear surprising stories of pigheaded sexism and loutish behaviour. Earlier this year, the majority of the volunteer fire department in Spaniard's Bay resigned over a dispute with the one female firefighter on the team.

Brenda Seymour explained she had experienced discriminatory and sexist behaviour - including sitting in on an instructional session at which an explicit pornographic clip was shown.

Last week, a former Halifax area firefighter received news her appeal for another human rights investigation has been approved.

It's been a long battle for Liane Tessier, who said she loved her job when she first started working in 1998. Gradually, she felt less and less respected by male colleagues, and learned rumours about her were spreading around the station.

When she complained, things got worse.

When she tried to complain internally, nothing was done and things got worse again. Tessier said she was labelled a "troublemaker."

She brought her complaints to the Human Rights Commission, but they were dismissed after languishing for years. A court ruling in 2014 found her case was mishandled.

"Nothing was done in terms of their notes, in terms of interviewing people," Tessier told Metro News. "It was really flawed."

The commission again reinvestigated and rejected her case, but a judge sided with Tessier and demanded a different commissioner take another look.

It's hard to know all the factors involved in each case. It could be that Tessier and Seymour are indeed difficult to get along with.

But in Seymour's case, a large portion of the community seemed blind to the fact that sexual harassment in any workplace is not acceptable.

The onus is not on the women to just "get over it" or get out. The onus is on the men to grow up and learn respect.

It's telling that of all traditionally male-dominated professions, firefighting seems among the slowest to catch up.

CBC's "The Fifth Estate" reported last November that of 22,000 professional firefighters in Canada, only about three per cent are women - about 600 in total for the whole country.

"While several fire services are working hard to recruit young women, some veterans say they face daily horrors," the broadcaster stated.

Firefighting is all about bravery and teamwork, and it's fair to say most firefighters aren't afraid to share that honour with female counterparts.

Perhaps the rest need to grow a pair.

Recent Stories