St John paramedic Debby Foster with members of the Brighton
Volunteer Fire Brigade during 50th jubilee celebrations on
Saturday. Photo by Craig Baxter.
When Debby Foster was a girl, people laughed at her when
she told them she was going to be a firefighter just like her
''My dad was a fireman until last year, and I grew up living
in South Dunedin fire station.
''In the early '70s when I used to tell everyone I wanted to
be a firewoman, they used to laugh at me. Girls weren't
allowed back then.
''In fact I got told by one chap that there was no room for a
woman in this man's fire service.
''I think I was a bit stunned by that. I didn't realise you
couldn't do those things.''
But when Anne Barry fought a lengthy battle with the Fire
Service Commission to become Australasia's first professional
female firefighter in 1981, it strengthened Mrs Foster's
She worked in the fire service control room when it was in
Dunedin, was a volunteer firefighter at Portobello from 1991
and transferred to Brighton in 1997 after marrying.
She remains the only female to have joined the Brighton
Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Dunedin did not get its first full-time firewoman until the
early 2000s, she said.
Mrs Foster encouraged others to join volunteer fire brigades
because it not only gave something back to the community, but
it also developed skills that could be applied to other parts
She said the Brighton Volunteer Fire Brigade was a great
resource for the community because without it, the nearest
appliance was 20 minutes away, ''if they're not already
While Mrs Foster is no longer a firefighter, she has become a
paramedic and remains connected to the Brighton Volunteer
Fire Brigade by training the volunteers in first aid, being a
''first responder'' to medical calls on a fire appliance, and
attending fires with the firefighters as a medic.
She is a woman of many talents. Because she has a history
degree from the University of Otago, she was asked to write a
history of the brigade, called Brighton Volunteer Fire
Brigade (1964-2014) to help celebrate the facility's 50th
Mrs Foster was one of about 50 firefighters, past and
present, who attended jubilee events on Friday and Saturday.