P.E.I.'s first female fire chief hopes to inspire other women

Jim Day
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Alison Larkin has her hands full as North Rustico's new fire chief, a new mom to six-month-old Garrett, and as a career paramedic.

Alison Larkin is North Rustico's new fire chief, a new mom, a career paramedic

NORTH RUSTICO – Getting the nod as fire chief of the North Rustico fire department has not been all that noteworthy over the past decade — until now.

Six have held the top command post during that time with none choosing to stay at the helm for anything approaching the long haul or even a good stint.

The seventh — and most recent — leader in the last 10 or so years hopes to buck that trend.

Alison Larkin already set a precedent last week by becoming the first female fire chief in Prince Edward Island.

She hopes to lead her crew, consisting of 25 firefighters, forward for at least the next five years.

She brings passion, experience and plenty of talent to the job.

The 27-year-old Rustico resident has been a volunteer firefighter for nine years, and a paramedic since 2009.

The first female Level II firefighter in P.E.I., Larkin is a qualified instructor at the P.E.I. Fire Fighting School. She has served as a lieutenant of the ladder company and as captain of the medical first responders.

Larkin grew up in Rusticoville with a desire to work in health care. She thought becoming a paramedic would fit the bill nicely.

FACTBOX: All in the family

She also thought joining the North Rustico fire department would aid in that pursuit. That she did, at age 18, right after graduating from high school.

She fell in love with firefighting right away.

Larkin clearly recalls her first fire call that had her manning a hose to cool off a large propane tank located next to a small burning building.

"It was a total adrenaline rush and I guess that's what we get addicted to in the end,'' she says.

"It's not boring. Every day is different.''

The appeal of being a firefighter runs much deeper than simply getting the juices flowing, of course. Larkin derives great satisfaction in helping people.

FACT BOX: Did you know?

Roughly 90 per cent of her department's calls are as medical first responders, dealing with everything from people suffering heart attacks, chest pains and shortage of breath.

It doesn't matter how much something hurts, I just do it. Alison Larkin, North Rustico's new fire chief

She believes female firefighters bring a valuable sensitivity to the job. P.E.I. Fire Marshal Dave Rossiter agrees.

He says women seem to have a better interaction at the scene of an accident or fire with the people facing a personal tragedy.

He adds female firefighters can keep up with their male counterparts in all aspects of the demanding job.

"They're just as dedicated, if not more,'' says Rossiter.

Larkin, who does not hit the gym but has played hockey all her life and walks to keep in shape, says the physical demands of firefighting have not been an issue.

"It is hard but I can do it,'' she says.

"It doesn't matter how much something hurts, I just do it.''

Larkin notes she is aware of a fifth estate investigation revealing that many Canadian female firefighters have experienced bullying, harassment and sexual assaults at the hands of their male counterparts.

She has not had any negative experiences — at least, she suggests, none she couldn't handle.

"I never really had a problem with it,'' she says.

Larkin plans to encourage "all around respect'' and a supportive environment among her firefighters.

Rossiter says he hasn't heard of "any real issues'' of female firefighters in P.E.I. facing sexism or sexual abuse.

He adds the number of women joining fire departments across the province has been gradually growing over the past 10 years. Only a handful of Prince Edward Island fire departments are without at least one female firefighter.

With 65 out of the approximately 1,000 P.E.I. firefighters now female, the province can boast enjoying over twice the national average on that front.

"It's fantastic that we are seeing more females stepping up and joining the ranks,'' says Rossiter.

Larkin hopes serving as the province's first female fire chief will inspire other women to become firefighters here.

"Well, I'm hoping that it will have an overall impact of females at least looking into joining fire services,'' adds Rossiter.

jday@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay

Organizations: Rustico Auto Service, P.E.I. Fire Fighting School

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, North Rustico, Rusticoville

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Recent comments

  • Shelley
    March 13, 2016 - 20:30

    Congrats to you Alison... I am sure you will do Amazing at you're job. I am from P.E.I....left there many years ago but still have family there and visit....Planning a trip this year...When reading the story I noticed you're husbands last name is Pineau...That is my Mother's maiden name...would be interesting to know if related... she lived in New Glassgo and I remember as a kid visiting family in Rustico...Her name is Mary Evelyn Pineau....Her Mom & Dad were Andrew & Mary Pineau....they had I think about 11 kids...the names I remember are.....Charlotte...Rita...Hilda....Edward....Joe...Isadoe....Vince.....Charles...Adolf of coarse my mom...anyway it would be nice to know if we are related....thanks Shelley

  • Stacey
    March 13, 2016 - 16:39

    Congrats! The truck 7 that is behind you was my grandfather's (Vaughn VanTassell, the fire chief of Digby.) I hope it is serving your department well! Brings back wonderful memories seeing it☺️

  • Firegirl
    March 13, 2016 - 16:20

    No sexual harassment on PEI in the departments ? Are you kidding me , I deal with it daily and you can't say a damn word because they are all buddies and have each others backs , but I keep on plugging through because I love firefighting, The first year is hell you take the harassment because these same goofballs are who vote you in , hopefully a female chief will help set a new standard of respect in the work place , good for you !! I only hope to be there one day great job !!

  • Kate
    March 13, 2016 - 14:57

    She had me cheering for her until she started to define gender roles and say that women are better "on scenes" and that they are more "dedicated". Great way to be divisive of men.

    • This is for Kate
      March 13, 2016 - 18:29

      Kate, I really feel so sorry for you and your inability to read. If you were able to understand the written word you would have seen it was Dave Rossiter, the provincial fire marshal, who said the things you posted about. It was not Alison. Could it be that you are more than a tad jealous of someone who has succeeded in life while you are stuck on the sidelines watching the world go by and so have to try to bring people down to make yourself feel good - even when you are dead wrong? In a word, you sound like a loser.

  • Holly Clark
    March 13, 2016 - 09:49

    Very proud of you Alison!

  • sheila MacKinnon
    March 12, 2016 - 19:35

    congratulations Allison

  • John Levac
    March 12, 2016 - 18:39

    Congrats Allison, good for you. We need to have more female leaders in the fire service . I am sure you will be a welcome addition and will bring a wealth of knowledge to the table. John R. Levac Deputy Chief Yarmouth FD.

  • Ron Larkin
    March 12, 2016 - 16:15

    Well done Allison. Good on ya for setting a new standard with the goals to continue to improve within that structure. Cheers from Australia.

  • Bub da bub
    March 12, 2016 - 14:17

    I wish Allison luck! She was not a great organizer though in my past experiences with her and this is a big operation to undertake. Hope she has grown and matured and knows what is at stake. Everyone deserves a fair chance and I admire her passion!

  • Joe Doe
    March 12, 2016 - 12:38

    SHE MUST BE THE FIRST FEMALE FIRE CHIEF ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

  • Marlee Jane
    March 12, 2016 - 11:08

    So proud of you Allison! You will make one Hell of a Chief! Go get em girl!

  • Lloyd MacIntosh
    March 12, 2016 - 09:49

    Congratulations on your position. This lady sounds like she has all the right qualities (not just qualifications) for the job. It is good to read that she hasn't had any bad experiences.

  • IslanderGirl
    March 12, 2016 - 07:30

    Did you know that the guardian doesn't know how to check it's facts before posting them? MOST Fire departments on PEI are NOT paid for calls or training, Charlottetown would be an exception. Some departments may get expenses (gas/wear and tear on vehicle/damaged clothing etc) and other departments get absolutely nothing. Might want to get your facts straight before reporting.

    • Bette Middler
      March 12, 2016 - 11:10

      Island girl, before mouthing off maybe you should have checked the P.E.I Department of Municipal Affairs. Many municipalities on the island pay honorariums and firefighters also get a tax break for this. But then, I don't see many firefighters complaining about not being paid. I would think someone becomes a volunteer firefighter to help their community and not for the pay. Unlike you, they are trying to make their communities a better place to live, although you could make yours better by just moving away.

  • David Griffin
    March 12, 2016 - 06:48

    Congratulations to Alison in her new position. This is great for Rustico to have the honour of a first female Fire Chief.