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

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 12, 2016

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.

©THE GUARDIAN/Jim Day

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.

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

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

All in the family

Here is a quick look at Alison Larkin, North Rustico's new fire chief:

-- Married to carpenter Ronnie Pineau, who is not a firefighter.  The couple has a six-month-old baby boy named Garrett.

-- Larkin's parents, Tony and Laura Larkin, own and operate Rustico Auto Service.

-- Has a younger brother, Brandon Larkin.

 

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

Did you know?

Volunteer firefighters are paid for emergency responses and attendance at training sessions. As per government legislation, the first $1,000 of income is tax-free.