‘They could be us when they grow up’: Female firefighters in Iqaluit aim to inspire next generation of girls


On International Women's Day, Iqaluit's fire department held its first shift staffed entirely by women. It was a poignant moment for Sharon Nowlan, the department's lieutenant and acting captain.

Iqaluit firefighters Abigail Emon, Mallory Jagoe, Sharon Nowlan and Emily Galipo were on shift on March 8, 2022, for International Women's Day. It was the fire department's first all-female shift.(Mike Zimmer/CBC)

If you needed help from the fire department in Iqaluit on Tuesday, one of the department's many capable women would have shown up to offer aid.

On International Women's Day, the fire department held its first shift staffed entirely by women. On shift were Sharon Nowlan, Emily Galipo, Abigail Emon and Mallory Jagoe.

It was a poignant moment for Nowlan, the department's lieutenant and acting captain.

"There are so many opportunities for women, for girls, these days — there's nothing that they can't do," she said. "You want to be a firefighter? Perfect. You want to be a fire chief? Definitely doable."

Nowlan has been a firefighter for 15 years and recalls a time when she was the only woman on the crew. Now, six of the department's 19 members and one of the four dispatchers are female.

Sharon Nowlan, Iqaluit fire department lieutenant and current the acting captain, has been a firefighter for 15 years.(Mike Zimmer/CBC)

"It's so fantastic," Nowlan said Tuesday as the shift began.

"I'm just so proud that we're doing this, and that we're going to do the job just as good as we would have if we were working with men. I think Iqaluit can feel safe and protected, and know that they've got some strong women out there for them today."

The fire department has gotten busier and busier over the years. Calls have doubled from when Nowlan started — now, crews respond to an average of 11 calls per day, she said.

Three-quarters of those are for ambulance services.

Emily Galipo has been a firefighter for nearly two years. She's one of the few firefighters in Iqaluit trained as a paramedic, and the only woman in that group.

Emily Galipo, photographed here at the Iqaluit Fire Department on March 8, has been a firefighter for nearly two years. She's one of six women in the department.(Mike Zimmer/CBC)

She said there aren't many opportunities right now for people in Iqaluit who want to train to be firefighters, but the department wants to rectify that by resurrecting its volunteer program or getting involved with the high school.

She said she's interested in helping out with that, or possibly starting a camp targeted toward middle school and high school girls to introduce them to firefighting.

"I would say that it's pretty important to showcase that sense of female involvement up here specifically, because [of] the difference in the ability to get certain education up here — our college doesn't offer firefighter programs like they would down south," she explained.

If the department brought back its volunteer program, people would be able to get their firefighting certifications through that, she said.

"To give them the opportunity to try is definitely something that I think needs to be done."

Abigail Emon drives a fire truck on March 8, 2022. Emon is one of six women in Iqaluit's fire department, and joined some of her colleagues for the department's first all-female shift.(Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Representing their communities

As women become more prevalent in jobs that are traditionally dominated by men, it makes those professions more representative of the communities they serve, says Nowlan.

"If half our community is female, then it's nice to see that there are women that look like you helping you. I think the community enjoys that," she said.

Nowlan and Galipo both said women bring the same skills as men to professions like firefighting — and for Galipo, her small stature works to her advantage.

"I'm very small, so I get to fit in all the tight and small spaces, especially when it comes to rescue and whatnot," she said.

Mallory Jagoe, photographed here on March 8, 2022, is a firefighter in Iqaluit.(Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Beyond Iqaluit

The enthusiasm Nowlan and Galipo have for their jobs — and for being able to serve the public — is shared by Lisa Ishulutak, who just recently retired from the fire department in Pangnirtung.

Speaking with Igalaaq host Joanna Awa in Inuktitut, she said she encourages anyone to join. She became a firefighter when her son was small, and he is now a firefighter too. Her two daughters also want to be firefighters when they grow up.

Lisa Ishulutak, left, recently retired after years as a volunteer firefighter for Pangnirtung's fire department. Her son is now a firefighter too, and her two daughters want to become firefighters as well.(Submitted by Lisa Ishulutak)

Feb. 6, 2022, was her last day — and, to her surprise, the community had planned a special parade to commemorate the years she spent volunteering as a firefighter.

"I was going to the store quickly. People were telling me they are happy for me, and I asked, 'Why?'" Ishulutak said.

"I did not hear, but there was an announcement that there's going to be a parade. 'Who, me?' I did not even believe what was happening. I went outside, and sure enough, there was a parade. I hopped on a vehicle and was part [of] the parade for me."

Lisa Ishulutak, fourth from right, recently retired from the fire department in Pangnirtung, Nunavut.(Submitted by Josephie Nakashuk)

She said she really enjoyed the work she did on the fire department, but it was time to hang up her gear.

"I'm so grateful to my fellow firefighters … and I really appreciate their support," she said.

Written by April Hudson with interviews from Teresa Qiatsuq

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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