Having started in the fire service in Portumna, Co. Galway in 2004, Ann Tuohy quickly grew a love for the challenges and ambitions she faced daily as a firefighter.
Looking back, Ann says, as a woman considering to join the local fire brigade in the early noughties was a daunting experience, because it was all men in it at the time, but living and working in a small town, knowing everyone in the community was a great benefit, it cut out some of the barriers I expected to face as the only female firefighter in the station, and at the time, the only one in Galway too.
By Declan Keogh
Ann said “I have been in the fire service since 2004 and have moved up the ranks from firefighter to a Sub-Station Officer in 2011 to a Retained Station Officer in 2016. I am the only female retained station officer in Ireland. I have found over the years, from working with ‘fire men’, that I was really welcomed into the fire service by everybody, not just in County Galway but in other counties that I have met people in too. I’m stationed in a small town, but we go out, we do our bit, we serve our community and I enjoy it a lot.”
Retained Station Officer, Ann Tuohy, Portumna Fire Station. (Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)
There are 10 fire stations in County Galway, the newest of which was officially opened in Tuam on Monday last 15th April. Tuam fire station recruited a female firefighter recently and the facilities in their station are state-of-the-art. “The facilities have changed an awful lot compared to what they had, they themselves have 1 female firefighter who has recently joined the service and when they built the new fire station in Tuam, they made their shower blocks and facilities gender neutral” said Ann.
Firefighters not only train in their own home stations, they may also be sent to other stations in different towns or counties for courses and this provides a greater opportunity for firefighters in general to liaise and bond with their counterparts from other stations and counties.
(Pic: Sub Officer Anthea Browne and Firefighter Christina O’ Mahoney, Tipperary Fire Service demonstrate to TY students on RTC cutting gear at Newbridge fire station. Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)
A group of female Transition Year students from Newbridge and Kildare Town were invited to the launch of ‘Women in the Fire Service’. Students met with some of the women and they discussed career prospects, community engagement, firefighting and the fire service overall. “It’s good to see this promotion for ‘Women in the fire service’ and it’s good to see Transition year students here so that they too can see that there are women in the fire service, maybe people don’t think there is, but there are.”
Everything firefighters do is as a team. Whether it’s putting up or taking down a ladder, doing rope rescue, fighting fires, cutting out a casualty from a vehicle, they all work as a team and according to the Retained Station Officer, without team work, there is no work, because it won’t work.
“Women in the fire service may be perceived by the public as ‘how can they do that job’, we do the job as a team, everything we do is as a team, to put up a ladder, take down a ladder, fight fires, that’s all as a team, there’s two of us on a hose, five of us putting up a ladder, we become first responders, and sometimes people involved in a crash would love to see a girls head coming in through the window and when you come back from dealing with something like that, although it may be awful sad, you feel you’ve done well and as well as the fellas or the other girls. I think it’s important for the community to see it and accept it and when the school children come into visit us, from Montessori all the way up to Secondary school, and they always ask the questions, it just comes normal. Women are in the guards, they’re in the ambulance service, the defence forces, we see them in all different roles and services and walks of life and it’s good to have women in the fire service” she said.
‘Water On’ – (Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)
Years ago, people were sometimes surprised when they saw a female firefighter or officer, nowadays however, they don’t notice it as much. Ann says all firefighters are trained the same, so it shouldn’t matter to the public what gender they are. “Maybe with our helmets on they don’t notice that and they don’t have to, it doesn’t matter who comes to their aid, were all trained the same, but sometimes when people stop and they have a look and they realise it’s a woman firefighter, its welcoming. It shouldn’t matter what the firefighter’s gender is.”
The ‘Women in the Fire Service’ network is a positive move within the fire service. A network which enables female firefighters and female fire officers to engage with each other as a network and discuss issues relative to them will no doubt help the fire service in many aspects going forward.
Ann believes it is nice sometimes to have other women to talk to after a callout or just to have ‘girly chats.’ “Sometimes you do want the girls to talk to, it was nice to come together last month in Athlone to see and meet all the women that are in the fire service, and we do have the same little problems, issues or quirks, and even the funny things like don’t wear your tights to a fire, it brings in a bit of fun at times and things like maternity leave and so on, there’s things like that that will pop-up in the fire service from time to time and they’re has to be, but it’s nice sometimes to have other women to talk to, maybe after a particularly bad call or even just to have girly chats.”
(Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)
“We’re not here as a fighting group, we’re here as a group to promote ‘Women in the fire service’, for the future. It’s hard at times, but it’s rewarding too.”
Tomorrow, we feature Firefighter Chenell Mullally, Tramore, Co. Waterford on ‘Women in the Fire Service’.
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