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'Women on Fire' aims to boost female numbers in emergency services

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The ranks of women in police, fire and other emergency services is still quite low, but over time, that number is creeping up.

An event this weekend aims to give women a better opportunity to enter typically male-dominated fields.

One of the organizers is Donna DeSantis, who first got into firefighting 12 years ago.

“I still remember when the first female got on with Windsor, and I thought ‘Oh, I could do that.’”

Today, DeSantis is a firefighter with Tecumseh Fire Rescue, where the number of women employed is still quite low.

According to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, only 5.5 per cent of firefighters across Canada in 2020 were women.

Data from St. Clair College shows those numbers could soon be on the rise. The number of women entering the college’s pre-fire course has jumped 10 per cent over the last decade, with women making up a quarter of all registrants.

Encouraged by this, DeSantis is pushing to get more women to follow in her footsteps.

“We should be representative of the members that we're serving,” said DeSantis. “So the more diverse our department is, the better able we are to serve our community, make those connections and keep people safe.”

This weekend’s Women On Fire event in Kingsville is a place where women interested in jobs in firefighting, police, EMS, corrections, CBSA and Armed Forces will be able to network, ask questions and get physical.

“It's a pretty tough physical test,” said DeSantis, noting that’s one of the barriers to entry for many women. The goal of Women on Fire is to introduce women to the physical aspect of employment testing so they aren’t caught off guard when they apply for a job.

“Working out is one thing you can do to get that strength, which is great. Now you need to actually practice on that equipment and make sure you know how it works, and how to get through the test,” DeSantis said.

Women working in all emergency services fields will be on hand to walk candidates through the interview process, offer encouragement and insights into keeping a work-life balance.

“We can give them that advice. And often when they hear our answers, they're like, ‘you know what? Yes, I can apply, I can make this work, and this is what I want to do,’” said Det. Const. Jody Fedak, a recruitment ambassador for the Ontario Provincial Police.

The event is Saturday, June 22 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Grovedale House in Kingsville. The day is broken up into three sections and you can pre-register here.

“They're going to offer them everything that they're going to need to know so that they can make their own decision,” said Andrea Clarke, who has been working as a corrections officer for 27 years.

“This is an amazing opportunity come and try it out,” said DeSantis. “See if you have what it takes.”

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