“I love firefighting,” says Carlene Pires who has become the first-ever female Captain within the Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue Service (KBRFR). “I just so happen to be a woman too,” she adds.
Carlene is proud of her paid-on-call job as well as the determination and accomplishments that have engineered her rise to the top.
She hopes that any publicity generated will encourage more aspiring firefighters, regardless of age or gender, to join the service during the KBRFR’s annual spring recruitment drive.
Her promotion to the rank of captain, an historic milestone for the KBRFR, was based solely on merit.
The accolade was also awarded to fellow crew member David Flanagan. Together, the pair will ensure a seamless succession at Station 372 Warfield is secured and a strong chain of command is already entrenched when Captain Ron Gattafoni retires in a couple of years.
“Carlene embraces the work ethic, values, passion and critical thinking that the role demands and her appointment will sustain our fire service’s continuity long term. Her remarkable leadership qualities, curiosity for continual growth and commitment to training, all gained whilst balancing a full-time job has been impressive,” Deputy Chief Glen Gallamore said. “Having each developed a unique skill set, all our captains are up to the task, provide a source of inspiration for new recruits and have the ability to strengthen an already tight-knit crew and community.”
Firefighting is in Carlene’s DNA. Her grandfather was a career firefighter with Nanaimo Fire Rescue and she spent much of her youth, and his retirement, with his firehall family – attending events, visiting former crew members as well as the Saturday night dinners, card games and camaraderie which she remembers the most.
Carlene’s journey into firefighting began as a new recruit in the fall of 2015 as a paid on-call firefighter and was underlined by “wanting to be part of something bigger than myself, to serve others and help people in my community in their greatest time of need”. In 2019 she was promoted to a paid on-call lieutenant and her sheer hard work, dedication, perseverance and love of the job has been the cornerstone to her success.
During the last seven years as a paid on-call firefighter, she has gained provincial wildfire deployment experience and a rack of certifications including full-service firefighter operations (NFPA 1001) and fire officer 1.
The demands of the role have also been balanced with careers in the Financial industry and within the Emergency Management Department of the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary where she has been its Emergency Program Coordinator since March 2021.
“I love my job and am thankful for all the strong, trailblazing women who have come before me as well as the fantastic peer support and mentorship I continue to benefit from. If my appointment encourages more girls and ladies to consider the fire service as a Career, Paid-On-Call or Volunteer firefighter that would be amazing. It’s such a rewarding move to make,” says Pires who is a member of Fire Service Women BC (fswbc.ca) and sits on the planning committee for Camp Ignite – Kootenay Division, a youth firefighting mentorship program for grade 11 and 12 girls living in Southeast B.C.
The four day overnight summer camp (campignite.com), will be coming to this region for the first time in July 2023 to empower local young women to follow their dreams and introduce them to the exciting world of firefighting.
Even though the KBRFR is a progressive and inclusive organisation committed to gender diversity, the lack of women amongst the ranks is representative of firefighting at large.
Less than five per cent of Canada’s firefighters are women.
Many think they lack the strength, height or fitness credentials to make it but that’s simply not the reality.
Recruits are trained to use technique, equipment and teamwork to overcome any lack of physical stature and size.
“Positive change within the fire service is a constant,” Pires said. “We all work so hard to leave the profession a better place than when we first started.
We’re breaking down barriers, talking about trauma, removing stigmas, focusing on fire prevention and receiving robust mental health support and training, she adds.
”It’s a great time to join such a unique, challenging and fulfilling career.”