Powell River Fire Rescue has been urged to give consideration to hiring a female full-time career firefighter.
Powell River resident Tanja Hanson, appearing before the Tuesday, September 4, committee of the whole meeting, referenced an email she sent to the city on August 10, where she highlighted an article that referenced the low number of career female firefighters in BC, while also highlighting that Powell River Fire Rescue missed an opportunity to hire a fully qualified female in the spring recruitment for a firefighter that was held this year.
Hanson said there was a City of Powell River posting for a firefighter on March 6, 2019. She said all of the paid on-call auxiliary team was invited to apply. It was Hanson’s understanding that only one female, who held the appropriate competencies outlined in the job, applied for this posting.
Hanson said that following the ensuing recruitment process in April 2019, it was brought to her attention that the female candidate was informed by telephone by fire chief Terry Peters that she was not the successful candidate.
“I did speak with councillor Maggie Hathaway on May 6 to express my concerns on what I perceive to be a gender discrimination violation of the BC Labour Code,” said Hanson. “It is therefore my impression that Powell River Fire Rescue does not reflect affirmative action hiring policy that takes equitable representation of our population, both male and female, as a goal for our career firefighter staff. Councillor Hathaway recommended that the female candidate contact the BC Ombudsperson office, and this is currently in progress.”
She said that as a consequence of her email to council on August 10, she did receive a written response from Peters. In his response, Hanson said Peters stated that under his leadership, he has been successful in recruiting and maintaining the highest percentage of female firefighters in the history of Powell River Fire Rescue.
Hanson said there are no full-time female career firefighters employed by Powell River Fire Rescue. Hanson added that Peters’ statement seems to be combining career and auxiliary firefighters into one specific, and she believes this is misleading.
Female auxiliary members who witnessed the hiring exclusion of a qualified female candidate now believe there is a glass ceiling and at least one of them has left the community to pursue another career, said Hanson.
As the population ages, with a predicted higher percentage of elderly women, it is important that emergency services meet the needs of the community, said Hanson. Having female first responders on staff is a new reality, allowing the oldest matriarchs to maintain their dignity, and having a female first responder might create a greater sense of safety for female victims of crimes, incidents or accidents, she added.
“We also need more role models and leaders for young women to identify with,” said Hanson. “This should mean hiring women within the ranks of full-time career firefighters. If young women can see these female firefighters in their turnout gear, they can see this profession as an option for them.”
Hanson said she had an action request for mayor and council, that the City of Powell River human resources department complete an unbiased review of the April-May recruiting process for the vacancy.
Her second action is that the city implement without delay within Powell River Fire Rescue, a hiring policy change to include affirmative action, as per the BC Human Rights Code, to include female career firefighters within the ranks of full-service firefighters and a profile more reflective of the city’s population.
Hanson said the goal should not have been to hire a firefighter that met the needs or was the best fit for Powell River Fire Rescue, but to hire a firefighter who will help meet the needs of the community that Powell River Fire Rescue is paid to serve.
There is a firefighter ready and willing to serve the community, bringing with her a wealth of competencies, experience and perspectives that can only add value to the fire department and the community, said Hanson.
“The City of Powell River has an exceptional opportunity to correct this and our amazing city deserves this,” she added.
Councillor Cindy Elliott thanked Hanson for the presentation and said she believes a better job should be done to ensure employees reflect the demographics.
Councillor Maggie Hathaway said she was not a real fan of affirmative action. She said she thinks it should be the best person for the job, male or female. However, if there was prejudice shown, if this goes through the ombudsperson process, it will be shown at that time.
Powell River Fire Rescue chief Terry Peters said the department welcomes any comments and concerns from the public regarding any matter in relation to the department.
“I have an open-door policy and will discuss any aspect of our service, including our hiring practices,” said Peters. “I stand behind a fair and non-bias process in everything we do that always has our community’s best interests first and foremost.
“I welcome anyone to call our office and make an appointment as I will always make the time to talk about your fire department.”