Firefighting way through stereotypes

by | Jan 30, 2020 | Headlines, News

Jaeybee Martinito, News Reporter
Olivia Hickson doesn’t feel out of place as one of only two women in a roomful of Humber firefighting students.

“I don’t feel singled out at all. Even in their language, they never say firemen,” she said.

Hickson recalls some moments in her childhood watching her dad getting home from a 24-hour shift and smelling like smoke. Her dad shared some stories from the day but left out the more disturbing details because she was too young to understand.

“There are more mature kinds of things that you want to tell people later, but I’ve heard more about it lately,” Hickson said.

And it’s the things she’s learning today from the eight-month training to become just like her dad.

Olivia Hickson, a soon-to-be third-generation firefighter, outside her classroom at Humber College. She is one of two women in the program. (Jaeybee Martinito)

Humber College holds a high reputation for future emergency service workers. The school was the first one to run a Paramedics program, launched in 1972, which was then followed by a Pre-service Firefighter Education and Training in the 1990s.

A diploma Fire Services program was launched two years ago and its first-class graduates this spring.

Many students like Hickson go through rigorous classes to equip them for real-life situations.

They learn the basics of firefighting and at the end of the year, they are off to train at a live-fire burn at Mississauga Fire Service’s training centre on Ninth Line.

“They really want to be honest with the students and they want to prepare and make sure there are no surprises,” she said. 

Hickson said many of her instructors try and create an environment that would prepare them for possibly terrifying or disturbing circumstances in their future careers.

James Bulger, a program coordinator and firefighter for 31 years, said the school does its best to normalize the difficult job so that an everyday hero doesn’t get scared going into a 911 call.

“When you have feelings of anxiety, isolation, and fear, all those are normal,” he said.

Mental and physical wellness are equally important in these programs due to exposure to vulnerable situations. Bulger said the real strength comes from the recovery after an emergency call.

“Firefighters know how tiring it is and having to do that day after day after day,” he said.

It’s okay to have an adverse reaction to a high-stress level call because there is always help available both professionally and in a school setting.

Ryan Kingston, a Mississauga Fire Captain and Humber instructor, said wearing multiple hats as a job is fulfilling and rewarding.

“I get to see them start from baby steps to succeed, and graduate ready to apply to a department,” he said.

After 21 years of experience in and out of the classroom, Kingston said the field has become more accepting and aware of mental health.

Coming full circle as a Humber graduate, Kingston is able to relate to the students because he was once in their boots.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Hickson said. “They do everything they can to help each other.

“My dad said there are lots of women in the fire service that do just as well as the men,” she said.