Female Firefighters

What would you like the general population to know about female firefighters?

Note: All names and identifying information has been changed to protect the individuals.

"Like we now know that females can be just as good doctors as male doctors, just as good astronauts as male astronauts, we have to learn that female firefighters can be just as good firefighters as male firefighters." (Allie)

"I think the stereotype is if you’re gonna do a man’s job then you’re like a man. But you don’t have to be like a man to do a man’s job. It’s only a man’s job because it’s been a man’s job throughout history. But it’s not necessarily only for men!" (Bree)

"I would tell them to follow their dreams. And not to allow the opinions of others to stand in their way. It’s not about anybody else’s beliefs, it’s about your beliefs." (Diane)

"It’s no different than any other job: You have to train, and you have to be educated, and you have to work hard." (Frances)

"Don’t treat us [women] like we’re special, or make a big deal, we’re here to do our job, acknowledge that!" (Gabrielle)

"Female firefighters don’t underestimate them. Even if they’re small or big or whatever country they come from, they’re strong." (Georgia)

"We’re all there for the same reason [to do firefighting work]." (Joanne)

"That we got hired with the same standards as the men. We do not have different standards. We can do the job, and that we are a benefit to the public, to be in the fire service." (Lenore)

"If we make it into the job, it’s because we can do it physically and not because we’re just there for show. . . We passed all the tests, there was no advantage. It was because we got there the same way everyone else [i.e., men] got there." (Odille)

"We are not the albino unicorn. There’s lots of us out there. . . It’s okay for their daughters and sisters and wives to become firefighters." (Olive)

"We’re still females but we do the job. And all you can do is try. Don’t say you can’t do it. Try and you’d be surprised what you can do." (Renee)

"We work just as hard as men. We’re just as capable of doing the job. There’s really no difference other than our genders." (Unity)

"People have to realize that women, especially in male-dominated environments, are there because they love doing what they do, not because they’re trying to compete with the males." (Xaviera)

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Women constitute a small portion of all the firefighters (approximately 4.4%) in Canada. This is the case whether they are volunteer or career firefighters. Research documenting the unique perspective of this minority of Canadian firefighters is nearly absent in the literature. Mostly, we know of a few mediatised cases that have been popularised because women were bullied and took their case to the human rights’ court. In spite of this media attention, research on the experience of Canadian women in fire-services has gone missing. In this project, we are studying the reality of Canadian female firefighters. Specifically, we want to know: (1) How they navigate an environment that is predominantly occupied by men; (2) What structural enablers and barriers do they encounter in their daily experience (e.g., policies of fire service institutions); (3) What discrimination and/or harassment, and/or gendered cultural practices do they face in such a gendered environment; and (4) How do they cope with, and exhibit resilience in, the firefighting services.

To complete this study, we are utilising the Psycho-Social Ethnography of the Commonplace (P-SEC) Methodology. This approach was developed to study the lives of marginalised groups and to develop recommendations for social changes to enhance the lives of marginalised groups. Thus, it is ideal for investigating the experience of women firefighters.

Findings for this project will shed light on this unknown reality and provide insights regarding policies and practices that could be changed to enhance the work environment of women firefighters. Depending on the findings, it could also provide information on how to improve the overall culture or practices inherent to firefighting that impede the work and wellbeing of women firefighters. It may also point to the need for standards that are normalised and better adapted for rural contexts, which are typical to Canadian firefighting.

Project Description

Equality legislation implemented since the 1970s (e.g., Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) facilitated the influx of an increasing number of …

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Poulin, C., Gouliquer, L., & McWilliams, J. (Accepted, February 2019). Othering of full-time and volunteer women firefighters in the Canadian fire services. …

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McWilliams, J., Sharkey, M., Poulin, C., & Gouliquer, L. (2019). Women firefighters in Canada: The issue of ill-fitting personal protective equipment. Symposium: The …

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The Fire Within: The Secret Battles of Female Firefighters
The Fire Within: The Secret Battles of Female Firefighters

CBC The Fifth Estate

Theirs is a reputation forged in fire -- built on bravery, dedication and danger. But privately, there’s a dark side; a burning secret inside so many fire halls across the country. Female firefighters who spoke to the fifth estate say they are being bullied and harassed on the job. Despite this they keep fighting, and across the country young women are signing up to become firefighters, driven by the fire within. Watch this fifth estate episode for the untold story of women who take on the all-male brotherhood.



  • Carmen Poulin, PhD
  • Lynne Gouliquer, PhD
  • Beverly C. S. Brazier
  • Heather MacArthur
  • Alyssa Mabey
  • Kathleen Webb

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