Woman finally a Spaniard's Bay firefighter

People/firefighting

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on June 12, 2009
Photo at left, Barb Hutchings and son Joey, 11, look over Spaniard's Bay. Hutchings has finally won a place on the Spaniard's Bay Fire Department. Photo at right, Barb Hutchings is shown in her gear at live fire training in Hay River, NWT. - Photo at left by Barb Sweet/The Telegram; photo at right, submitted.

Barb Hutchings' dream of climbing back into fire department gear finally came true last week.

"It felt great," said Hutchings, whose story of trying to get on the Spaniard's Bay Fire Department was told by The Telegram in March 2008, setting off a flurry of media attention.

Hutchings, an experienced volunteer firefighter who honed her skills alongside her husband Glen in High River, Alta., before moving back to this province, was previously rejected a couple of times by the department, despite her training.

Barb Hutchings' dream of climbing back into fire department gear finally came true last week.

"It felt great," said Hutchings, whose story of trying to get on the Spaniard's Bay Fire Department was told by The Telegram in March 2008, setting off a flurry of media attention.

Hutchings, an experienced volunteer firefighter who honed her skills alongside her husband Glen in High Level, Alta., before moving back to this province, was previously rejected a couple of times by the department, despite her training.

The couple applied together this spring and were interviewed.

In late May, they got a call from the Spaniard's Bay fire chief that they had been narrowly rejected in a fire department vote.

"After we got the phone call, needless to say I was very disappointed. ... I thought in my head, 'Ding, ding, ding, Round 3,'" said Hutchings from her Spaniard's Bay home.

This time around, she said, the fire chief was supportive of her application.

She said the town council got involved and the couple was voted in.

When she showed up June 4 for her first practice, Hutchings was greeted by another new female member of the department.

It's believed the department had never had a woman onboard before.

In 2008, the department had placed an ad in the weekly Transcontinental paper, The Compass, seeking volunteer firefighters.

Hutchings, who was then waiting for her husband, a Spaniard's Bay native, to clew up work in Alberta and join her and their two children, thought she fit the bill perfectly.

In High River, Alta., she was a few courses shy of professional status on a department that put high priority on training.

But her application was turned down and Hutchings, who grew up in nearby Bay Roberts, was told it was because she wasn't a permanent resident of Spaniard's Bay. She heard through the grapevine, however, it was either because she was a woman or over-trained.

At the recent practice, Hutchings said there was a lot of handshaking and congratulating going on. But she said there were a few still opposed to her presence and they will have to get over it.

"The fire chief, this time, is very supportive," Hutchings said. "He really knows this time that he needs to look out for the people of this community. His No. 1 importance is safety and having the proper people there to be trained. He was really open to it and really good to us this time."

As for those who don't support her, Hutchings said it's not her concern.

"I was told to expect that. They're not in the mindset of thinking this community needs to be protected. They are in the mindset of 'Oh this is not who I want here.' We're a bunch of adults. Those people, they have probably been on there for years and you've got to respect the work they have done. But it's just they need to open their minds and realize that people are going to come in and there are going to be people who are going to be trained and help out," Hutchings said.

"I don't understand why they are closed off to it, probably never will."

She thinks, however, over time things will improve.

Many townspeople have offered supportive words, she said. And her fire department colleagues back in High River are delighted.

Hutchings was a volunteer firefighter in High River for four years, before taking a job with an ambulance service back home.

In Alberta, she said she was trained in a number of areas, everything from using equipment to extract people from cars to handling hazardous materials, to fighting fires and search and rescue.

Hutchings is embracing being a new member of the department, and hopes to put her training to use and further upgrading her skills.

"I'm down to rookie status again. It will take getting used to, but fun for sure. We'll take it all in stride," she said.

bsweet@thetelegram.com