No room for stereotyping in a fire hall

Thornhill, B.C.'s volunteer firefighters include six women, all equally as trained and qualified as the men

Ive been in a fire hall twice – first to pattern a waterproof cover over the bed of Thornhill’s ladder truck, and the second time to fit the cover and install the snaps. I remember the clean orderliness of the place, many suits of gear hanging ready to be snatched up and donned at the sound of a pager.

Such clean orderliness doesn’t happen on its own. It comes from training, teamwork and pride in the job.

Teamwork is essential. Without teamwork, the whole system falls apart. That’s what happened Jan. 22 in Spaniard’s Bay, NL when the fire chief and 20 male volunteers resigned en masse at a town council meeting, leaving the 2,600 residents with eight firefighters.

Two hundred women and kids demonstrated outside council bearing signs, “Support our men”.

The only firefighter talking was Brenda Seymour, the lone female brigade member. She had complained of enduring years of harassment, being passed over for promotions. Topping off her intimidation and discrimination was a 2014 incident ending a training session conducted by Chief Jeremy Hall from Bay de Grave. “For a laugh,” he showed a 23-second explicit porno film.

The men claim Seymour , too, laughed at the film. They see nothing inappropriate about a porno flick shown in a workplace.

Seymour says she was flabbergasted. Numb. As the only woman in a group of men, her laughter would be a nervous response like an audience member knocked sideways by a comedian’s off-colour joke.

Not one man, not even the chief, objected to the porno film and since the resignations, all refuse to explain their side of the impasse, hinting there is one, if only a lawyer hadn’t advised them to stay mum.

Fortunately the 10-member municipal board in charge of fire halls agreed with Seymour. Chief Hall’s certification as a qualified trainer was revoked and he was relieved of his salaried position.

Following a day long training session on what constitutes harassment, Spaniard’s Bay mayor and council issued Seymour a full written apology and promised to re-write their harassment policies establishing zero tolerance of harassment throughout all departments.

What riveted me to following news reports of this scandal was one comment posted by a Terrace resident in a long, long list following a National Post article titled “Crashed Trucks, Dead Mice and Porn: Inside the firefighting scandal tearing apart a Newfoundland town.”

The Terrace comment posted January 21, 2016 at 2:25 p.m. reads: “I have yet to see a women firefighter who deserves to be in the position they are in. They are promoted only because they are a woman. The politically correct hate to hear the truth.”

A first year Pouch Cove, NL firewoman calls this comment “motivation”.

Thornhill’s volunteer firefighters include six women, all equally as trained and qualified as the men, their competency evaluated by an outside agency.

Popularity with fellow firefighters carries scant weight toward becoming chief. Thornhill’s fire chief is chosen by a committee of three: the current chief, a representative of the association which speaks for the firefighters, and a regional district representative.

Firefighters of smaller stature or less strength perform equally valuable tasks during a callout: replacing empty oxygen bottles, moving hoses…

Anyone who believes female firefighters have no place in a fire hall and are promoted only because they are women harbours an antiquated, stereotypical viewpoint.

It’s the same viewpoint displayed by too many Spaniard’s Bay women.