Female firefighting crew scores a historic first

The St Andrews Volunteer Fire Brigade had its first all-female crew attend a callout at the end...
The St Andrews Volunteer Fire Brigade had its first all-female crew attend a callout at the end of last year (from left) Amy Phillips, Ashley Tikitiki, Lisa Grant and Karen Fletcher. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

When four St Andrews firefighters were riding in their truck towards an emergency, it took them 10 minutes to realise they were making history.

Apart from the driver, it was the brigade’s first all-female crew.

Of the St Andrews Fire Brigade’s muster of 16, five are women.

They are Qualified Firefighter Karen Fletcher, Firefighters Ashley Tikitiki and Amy Phillips, Recruit Firefighter Lisa Grant and Brigade Support Janice Hurst.

Nationally, 20% of volunteer firefighters are women.

The four firefighters were the first to respond to a callout last month.

"It took us a while to notice that we had all four women firefighters," Miss Tikitiki said.

"And then we were suddenly like, ‘Oh yeah. This must be the first time’."

Mrs Fletcher has been in the brigade for 14 years, and said gender had never been a barrier.

"We have had quite a few females ... throughout the years, as people move in and out of the town."

Heavy lifting had never been an issue.

"I notice when I give training that the boys and girls will lift heavy things differently. The boys will get stuck in, whereas I teach the girls techniques which make it easy to lift everything."

Miss Tikitiki said adrenaline helped with the job.

"When you’re out on a job, the adrenaline kicks in and you can lift most things, no problem."

Miss Grant joined the brigade five months ago, after having lived in St Andrews for 18 months.

She said it had helped her to get to know the community.

"I hadn’t made many friends until I joined here.

"It’s been pretty exciting to help the community, learn some new skills. I did traffic control for the first time the other day."

Fire and Emergency New Zealand women’s development manager Barbara Olah said the St Andrews brigade’s female representation was fantastic.

"We’re keen for more women to join us and are pleased to see women are increasingly interested in becoming firefighters.

"Nationally, we have 95 career female firefighters and nearly 2500 female volunteers [including firefighters, operational support and brigade support]. This is around 5.5% of career firefighters and around 20% of our volunteers."

 - Helen Holt

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