Lincoln celebrates new graduates for Niagara West Fire and Emergency Services

Lincoln had plenty of reasons to celebrate at its recent graduation ceremony for the Niagara West Fire and Emergency Services recruits.

The Feb. 24 event in Jordan marked the first official graduation ceremony for recruitment efforts of the new combined service, after Lincoln and Grimsby partnered up in October 2021 for the fire service pilot.

For Rebecca Persoon and Eily Persia, the two women graduates, joining the service was not just an opportunity to pursue their passion but a chance to challenge stereotypes.

During Persoon’s first medical call, she noticed how the community reacts to a woman’s presence in an emergency.

When a team of mostly female firefighters and paramedics showed up at the call, Persoon still remembers the patients’ reaction.

“We actually had the patients saying, ‘yeah, let's go, women,’” Persoon said. “They noticed and said something, so I think you just see the difference right off the bat. The community sees it.”

And what is that difference? According to Persoon, someone the patient can relate to during a compromising and vulnerable emergency situation.

“If you're going to be in a vulnerable position, you want someone who maybe understands a little bit more of the sensitive matters,” Persoon said. “When women and people go unconscious, sometimes they lose control of their bladder. So that's a pretty uncomfortable situation to be in.”

According to Niagara West Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Chief Bill Blake, the service currently has three women in suppression, one fire prevention office, one emergency management co-ordinator, one fire co-ordinator and one in administration.

Persia, who graduated alongside Persoon, said on someone's worst day, when they need to call emergency services, anyone coming in can be quite intimidating.

“If it's a female needing help and they see another female coming in, it might make them a little calmer and just a little more chill instead of four big bustling guys,” Persia said. “That's one thing that I have thought about a lot, is females, in general, do give just a more calming presence. And I think that needs to be brought to a scene for sure.”

Persia has seen first-hand the impacts of the presence of “female energy” while dealing with an emergency situation.

“We are a little bit more empathetic, I think, naturally. And we are able to observe differently than men,” said Persia, who noted she can relate on a personal level. “As a female, I feel more comfortable around female nurses.”

Persoon said having both men and women in the field reflects the reality of the world.

Though there is a need for more women in firefighting and emergency services, Persia believes it’s not a profession women typically consider due to a lack of knowledge about the profession. She admitted she once dismissed the idea of becoming a firefighter herself because she was “small and female.” She said it wasn’t something that had occurred to her as a possibility.

“And I genuinely think that is the main issue, is just they don't even think about it,” Persia said.

Society and self-doubt can be something that helps put that mindset in place, she said.

“It's either you work towards breaking those boundaries or you stay comfortable and just ride along with what you think you're supposed to do, not what you want to do,” she said.

Niagara West Fire and Emergency Services fire Chief Greg Hudson said he and Blake ask themselves around recruitment time why their numbers of female recruits are not representative of the population.

“It really is a shame, and it's not really indicative of our what our community is made up of and we're trying to change that,” Hudson said. “And so we're trying to break down some of those stereotypes that have been in the community for so long.”

Hudson said there’s a long-standing thought about firefighting that comes from what people see in the movies.

“Like big guys running through a burning building. And that's totally false, that’s totally a Hollywood version of firefighting.”

He said firefighting today is a very diverse and challenging endeavour, but also a rewarding one.

“A firefighter needs dedication, courage, assertiveness, and a willingness to learn and face new challenges head on. These are all qualities our recruits have mastered,” he said at the graduation ceremony. “We are proud to see our 2022 recruits join a long line of men and women who have demonstrated service, compassion, and integrity in the protection of life and property within our communities.”

Beatriz Baleeiro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News