Female firefighters across the country are increasingly taking on frontline volunteer roles that were once the sole preserve of men.
Traditionally, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service’s volunteers were drawn from rural landholders with men fighting the fires and women in support roles.
But the service has made a concerted effort to encourage women to take on a broader range of roles, including in rapid aerial response and remote area firefighting, to bolster volunteer numbers.
Females make up about 22 per cent of all the service’s volunteers — a number that is increasing annually — while in the younger cadet cohort, the proportion of females is about 46 per cent.
And on the other side of the country in the south-west corner of Western Australia, volunteer firefighting brigades are being transformed as women swell their ranks and take on leadership roles.
Stephanie Looi is a volunteer with the NSW Rural Fire Service’s Remote Area Firefighting Team.
Even after years of winching out of helicopters to fight bushfires in remote terrain, Ms Looi said she still felt anxious and a “little bit sick” as the aircraft drew closer to a fire.
“There is anxiety, I suppose, because you’ve been flying in a helicopter for 30 or 40 minutes,” Ms Looi said.
“It’s not a beautiful 18 degree day, it’s probably 40 degrees. You are feeling slightly sick because you are crammed into the back with another couple of sweaty people.
“Then you get there and it’s hot and it’s windy and you are looking at this fire trying to decide what you can do about it and if you can do anything about it. There’s a lot going through your mind.”
As well as the heat and the nausea — there is also the noise.
“The rotor blades are thumping and you’ve got that whine of the engines. You can feel it in your chest,” she said.
“We actually have a name for it, it’s called ‘R.I.M.L’ or rotor induced memory loss, because those high frequency tones make you feel a bit anxious.”
Ms Looi said she found firefighting to be incredibly rewarding and would recommend it to other women.
This was originally published by ABC.net.au.
Tags: bushfire, Emergency Response, Emergency Services, emergency workers, fires, volunteers