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Women on Fire highlights rise in female first responders

A hands-on career fair aimed at enticing young women to try out the physical requirements for six organizations —  firefighting, policing, Emergency Medical Services, Canadian Boarder Agency, Correctional Agency and the Canadian Armed Forces — was held in Kingsville Saturday, June 22 at the Grovedale Arts and Cultural Centre. 

Young women ages 16 and up from across Essex County were invited to the one-day event, which included a chance to put on and try out the equipment and skills needed for the job, such as trying on firefighter gear and crawling through a confined space with an oxygen tank. 

“We have a lot of unique components this year,” said Donna Desantis, a 12-year veteran of Lakeshore Fire Services and one of three organizers of this year’s Women on Fire event with fellow female firefighters Shannon Ingall of Kingsville Fire and Mahlia Rosati of Leamington Fire Services.

Desantis said this year’s event included lowering the age from 18 to 16 to allow more girls early access to first-hand experience with the skills needed for choosing one of the six career paths. Also on hand were St. Clair College recruiters with information on each of the programs offered at the college. 

“The OPP is running an official beep test (shuttle run) today,” she said, “and if you get to level 7 they are sending you a certificate in the mail and step one of your recruitment is already done.” 

“It is a minimum requirement to apply,” said Sergeant Christina Barraco with West Region Uniform Recruitment of the OPP. “It is a 20-metre shuttle run with recorded beeps that get faster as they go on.”

The Canadian Border Services Agency information session opened many eyes to how much more there is to the job than just what you see when being questioned in a booth as you cross the border. 

New to this year’s event was a demonstration by the Ministry of Solicitor General Correctional Division Correctoinal Service Dog Hero and handler Breanna Stinson. 

Stinson said there are still few women going into careers in corrections today and she is the only woman on her unit, but there are opportunities for so many more. She said it was nice to see all of the young women cheering each other on while completing the OPP Shuttle Run test too.

The Canadian Armed Forces and Emergency Medical Services were set up in the parking lot with several stations, including sandbags to toss, strength and endurance drills, and stretchers and dummies to show the latest testing requirements for both organizations. 

Desantis said Women on Fire actually started in 2018 and was first held in Amherstburg. It has since moved locations each year, from Tecumseh to now Kingsville and possibly Lakeshore next year.  

She said it was actually at the request of many of the fire chiefs, who had been asking female firefighters across the county to mentor others. 

“Volunteer fire services recruit every year,” she explained, “and there were a lot of girls coming out who would get discouraged.” 

Desantis said that led to her gathering other female firefighters from across the county and bringing them all together to create a one-location and one-day event to mentor young women and encourage them in preparing for the test requirements.

“We wanted to have all the physical testing equipment set up, invite women to come out and help them through it. It is unique testing equipment,” she explained. “You can go to the gym all you want and gain that strength, but now you have to try and see how to dress a hydrant, and how to hoist a hose bundle, and how to carry etcetera—  you need to feel the actual equipment,” she said. 

She said they wanted to take the mystery out of what is actually involved in testing.

Although the event is geared to women only, Desantis says she is very thankful for her fellow male firefighters who came out to help with the event.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” she added.

More information on recruitment and requirements can be found on each organizations website or check out the Women on Fire Facebook page.

This week’s
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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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