Virginia MacDonald, the first full time female employee on Surrey Fire Department.
This portrait was taken shortly after her retirement in March 1984.
At the onset of World War II, women joined forces against the ravages of fire and many fire brigades world wide were supplemented by female personnel, primarily the result of civilian males being involved in the war effort. The window of opportunity in North America for full time female fire fighters opened in 1974 when two women, Judith Livers and Sue Mertens, became the world's first full time urban fire fighters. The same status for career fire fighters in Surrey occurred on September 14, 1992, when Nancy Innes and Isabel Ruediger became full time fire fighters.
Many women, in many roles are important in Surrey's Fire Service. This page will attempt to cover all those roles.
Many women have been pivotal in the development of the Surrey Fire Department, (SFD) most at arms length within their own segment of the fire department organization, as members of Surrey Fire Department Ladies Auxiliaries. Others participated in the unorganized corps as the wives and girlfriends of fire fighters; their connection being mostly related to supplying food, beverages and services to emergency responders during major emergency situations, as well as the ever important regime of moral support to their loved ones.
The Ladies Auxiliaries of note were participants at Fire Halls 12, 10, 6 & 4. It is impossible to differentiate the values of one individual group from another they were all of value in raising funds for fire equipment, hospital benefits, MDA, Cerebral Palsy Treatment Centre and other community beneficiaries.
The Ladies Auxiliary for Fire Hall 12 are meeting for afternoon tea for the last time. The Tea marked the end of an era with the staff becoming a composite force.
The Ladies Auxiliary at Fire Hall 6 was formed on February 16, 1963. At the first meeting Mrs. Williams was elected President, Mrs. Marleau elected Vice President and Mrs. Hatcher was elected Secretary–Treasurer. The membership fees were established at one dollar per year. Many articles of their efforts in fund raising and community affairs were published in local newspapers during their tenure of existence.
The Ladies Auxiliary at Fire Hall 4 was a very shortly lived entity, beginning in 1956/57 when the first fire hall 4 was being built at 104 Ave. and 137 St. and absolving when the new Fire Hall 4 was constructed in 1958/59 at 14586 – 108 Ave.
The Ladies Auxiliary members of Hall 10 and 12, although now disbanded, continue to meet at regular intervals to wine and dine, with a camaraderie and Esprit de Corps as strong and sincere as that shown by their male counterparts.
Obviously there isn't room, need, or resources to present the full details for each of the auxiliaries. However, the following short account of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Crescent Beach Fire Department shows the benefits and functions of these organizations to the development of Surrey Fire Department.
Although the auxiliaries were each independent of one another, their methodologies, purpose and persuasions were identical.
The Ladies Auxiliary to the Crescent Beach Fire Department.
The first meeting of the auxiliary was held on September 2, 1947, in the home of Alice M. Copp. The fifteen founding members present at the meeting were: Alice M. Copp, Veiga Dawe, Sheilagh Barrington–Foote, Susan A. Adams, Elsie M. York, Doris Currie, Gertriude Currie, Joan M. Williams, Margaret Weatherburn, Emmie Rawden, Ada Goodyn, B.M. Sandbrook, L. Lindsay, R. Greggor and M.Currie. At the time there were also fifty–four Associate members.
The mandate or purpose of the auxiliary was to help with funding for the purchase of furniture, dishes, and other necessities for the fire hall, with the do–all clause of to help the firemen in any manner possible. During 1948, the auxiliary purchased fire coats and boots for the volunteer firemen. In 1949 to 1950, they helped construct and furnish living quarters at the rear section of the fire hall. At a meeting held June 12, 1950, Veiga Dawe made a motion that the Ladies Auxiliary purchase an E & J Inhalator for the fire brigade. On July 26, 1952 an E & J Inhalator, Resuscitator, Aspirator was purchased at a cost of $647. This unit was held in the Crescent Beach Drug Store, available to firemen during emergencies.
E & J Inhalator, Resuscitator, Aspirators were the machine of choice for use at medical calls in the late 1940s, through the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the fire halls in Surrey used them, although their use was limited as an inhalator, unless a doctor was present at the emergency scene to supervise use of the machine's resuscitator or aspirator functions. They were eventually replaced by the use of O2 Therapy Units, Pulmonary bags and CPR. Most E & J Units purchased in Surrey were through funds raised by Ladies Auxiliaries or the fire department members. Two exceptions were in 1946/47 when a unit at South Westminster Volunteer Fire Department was purchased by local industry and in Cloverdale, where the Surrey Council, Cloverdale Jaycees and the firemen contributed funds for purchase of two units.
Volunteer Fire Chief Art Jack, Hall 10, Newton, receives an E & J Inhalator, Resuscitator, Aspirator from Hall 10 Women's Auxiliary President, Mrs. Alice Findon. C 1955.
The early years saw some dissension between the ladies auxiliary at Crescent Beach and the administration of the fire brigade, with the result that during a meeting on August 28, 1952, the auxiliary reclaimed and removed furniture, dishes and utensils they had purchased for the fire hall. They transferred their monetary funds into bonds and deposited the bonds into a safety deposit box, then dissolved the auxiliary.
On January 14, 1953, after animosities, tempers and emotions had settled, a meeting was convened of the recent ladies auxiliary members and it was resolved to ignore the actions. All furnishings, dishes and utensils removed by the ladies, were returned to the fire hall.
At this same time Volunteer Chief Collin McFayden was administering a reconstructive development program for the Crescent Beach Brigade, whereby, he actively recruited teenage boys into the service. To further his cause, he also attempted to encourage teenage girls into the Ladies Auxiliary, by having them prepare sandwiches for the firemen on their Wednesday practice nights. The mothers of the girls did not think kindly of McFayden's proposal and decided to supply the sandwiches and refreshments themselves. This was a responsibility the Ladies Auxiliary carried out dutifully until the final Wednesday night volunteer training session when the fire fighting staff became a composite unity.
In 1958, the ladies were very busy raising funds to equip the new fire hall on 128 Street. They were instrumental and active at the official opening of the new facility and prepared a banquet which was served after the official opening ceremonies.
At a meeting on June 2, 1960, the ladies officially changed their name to The Ladies Auxiliary to the Crescent Beach Ocean Park Volunteer Fire Department. During the years 1960 through to 1964, the Ladies Auxiliary was very active raising funds for fire hall accessories and assisting the volunteer firemen purchase jackets.
At another meeting on November 4, 1964, the Ladies Auxiliary voted to disband. The majority of the ladies had been involved with the organization for a number of years, and was tiring of the constant work required on their part. A few of the younger ladies decided to restart the auxiliary. How much time elapsed between November 4, 1964 and the time of reorganization is not clear. However, the new ladies remained active until the incorporation of paid staff at the hall.
The Crescent Beach/Ocean Park Volunteer Hall 12 Ladies Auxiliary were training on Fire Extinguisher Use, Oct. 18, 1987. From left to right are: Dot Shepherd, Judy MacKay, Kathy Salter, Carolyn Haining, Val MacMillan.
Most of the Ladies Auxiliary of Crescent Beach/Ocean Park Volunteer Fire Hall. Not all members were wives of the firemen. Photo taken April 29, 1990, outside of Hazelmere Golf and country club. The volunteer firemen treated the Ladies Auxiliary to brunch as a 'thank you' for the support at the fire hall.
The first ladies; Mae Barge, Ruby Menunzio, Eileen Myttenar, Irene Pearson and Joan Van Veen, were truly the foundation of women on the Surrey Fire Department (SFD). Each lady had the distinction of Surrey Fire Halls being their home. With the exception of Joan Van Veen, these ladies were married to professional fire fighting Captains vis-vis Volunteer Fire Chiefs. They all had the challenge of raising their children within the confines of Surrey fire halls, with the added difficulty of many male employees, career and volunteer, thinking they should be parental disciplinarians to their children. Some of these ex offcio disciplinarians ultimately discovered one does not agitate the den mother. The children, left to their own judgment, soon figured out who the good and the bad guys were and maintained their distance appropriately.
Mae Barge is the only woman of those named that actually performed the duties of a fire fighter. Harold and Mae were living in the White Rock/Sunnyside Fire hall, (Surrey, 13) located at the corner of North Bluff and Johnston Roads, (16 Ave. & 152 St.). While the regular crew was at an emergency, Mae was at home with her children when a call for assistance came from Crescent Beach Volunteer Fire Department for an emergency near Elgin. Mae put her children in the front passenger seat of the pumper and responded to the scene. The final outcome was the pumper Mae was driving became bogged down on the banks of the Nicomekl and had to be towed out. (This story can be authenticated by listening to the Surrey Archive's audio tape recording with Harold Barge.)
Harold and Mae moved into the new Sunnyside Fire Hall 13, located at 15310 - 24 Avenue, in 1959. They hold the distinction of being the only family to live in two Surrey Fire Halls. Part of the ex–officio responsibilities for ladies raising their children in Surrey Fire Halls was to answer telephones and receive walk-in members of the public when the men were away from the station. Mae was a Scottish war bride who retained her sweet Scottish brogue, which undoubtedly brought some joy to those telephoning Hall 13 or listening to her on the radios when the Surrey Fire Department moved into electronic communications.
John and Ruby Menunzio were the next couple to call a fire hall home, in 1958, they moved into Fire Hall 2, with their family of three. This was before the fire hall became staffed with career fire fighters. John was the Captain at South Westminster Volunteer Fire Hall 1, (SWVFD) and transferred to Fire Hall 2 as the Officer-in-charge. Ruby is the daughter of the late Volunteer/Paid Fire Chief James Jim Cook who performed his full tenure of service at SWVFD. She was well aware of the complications Ruby was very proficient and comfortable handling the telephones and dispatch system. She always maintained a calm demeanor, the main pre-requisite for effective communications. John and Ruby moved from Fire Hall 2 in 1970, after successfully raising a family of six under less than ideal conditions. As an adjunct, it is interesting to note that today's (2007) Fire Chief Len Garis was a school mate of John and Ruby's youngest son Wayne, so Chief Garis also had the opportunity of hanging out in a Surrey fire hall as a youngster.
Fran and Eileen Myttenar were the next family to occupy a fire hall. They moved into Fire Hall 4 shortly after it was constructed in 1959, living there until early 1964. The Myttenar's had no biological children; however, they were parents to five adopted children. Eileen also performed the expected responsibilities pursuant to ladies living in fire halls. Unfortunately, Fran Myttenar was convicted of arson early in 1964 and so ended their occupation with the Surrey Fire Department.
Lorne and Irene Pearson were the next and last family to live in a fire hall as career members. They moved into Fire Hall 4 in December 1964, replacing the Myttenars. The Pearsons had one son when they first occupied Hall 4, their second son was born the following August. Irene had the special skill of being an excellent cook, thus many cakes, cookies and pies filtered their way downstairs for the on–duty staff. The rapport between police and fire was very close during these times, therefore it was not long before the RCMP officers heard of Irene's baking and would stop in for their coffee breaks, often calling upstairs upon their arrival asking, What's baking today? Association with the RCMP was a good omen for children living in the fire halls; it gave another set of disciplinary eyes to watch over them, both at and away from the fire halls, it also created a mutual respect between the kids and the police officers.
Another point of interest with Irene and Lorne living in the fire hall is their son John being a career fire fighter in Port Coquitlam. John is the only one of all the children living in Surrey fire halls that became a fire fighter. Irene has the distinction of having had a father–in–law, husband, two brothers, a foster brother and a son who were/are fire fighters. Lorne and Irene moved out of Fire Hall 4 in September 1971.
Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hardman occupied the living quarters at the Crescent Beach Fire Hall as custodians from 1954 until 1960, when the new fire hall was constructed on 128 Street they did not move into the new facility.
Martin and Joan Van Veen were the final caretakers at Crescent Beach/Ocean Park Volunteer Fire Department, Hall 12. The arrangement for Joan and Martin to live at the Hall was a decision by the Volunteer Chief and members. It was not a municipal pre–requisite as it was for the other occupants of fire halls as their tenure was approved by the Municipal Fire Chief. Joan was also very competent in operating the radio system and answering telephones. The Van Veens lived in Fire Hall 12 from 1960 until 1970.
No other ladies lived in Surrey fire halls, although over the years male caretakers have occupied fire halls 7, 8, 9, 10, and 14, while at various times volunteer fire fighters have lived at halls 8 and 9.
The first female volunteer fire fighters employed in Surrey were Jean Turley and Helen Beaton in the year 1960.
Surrey's first female volunteer fire fighters; Jean Turley in the truck, Helen Beaton with an E & J Resuscitator. They began their service in 1960 at Fire Hall 6 under the direction of Volunteer Chief Wally Snook. The intent or purpose was to have Jean and Helen available for inhalator and medical aid calls (MESA) and to serve as mobile radio operators.
Helen was a Registered Nurse (RN), so served the expectations very well. She was a volunteer fire fighter for thirteen years, retiring in 1973. Jean had the benefit of her husband Bob being the Volunteer Deputy Chief at Hall 6, when she joined in 1960. When Wally Snook died Bob became the Volunteer Fire Chief for the next nine years, with Jean under his command. Jean always made it clear that Bob may have been in charge at the fire hall and at calls, but at home they were equal.
Jean had a total of 25 years service at Hall 6, which earned her a Provincial Long Service Medal and a Federal Fire Service Exemplary Medal. She is the only Surrey female fire fighter to have achieved this distinction. From 1971 to 1978, Bob, Jean and their son Rand all served as volunteer fire fighters at Hall 6. Although Jean did not do any interior fire fighting, she was more than capable of dragging two and one half inch hose and working a one and one half inch line on an exterior exposure.
Jean Turley passed away on April 29, 2000. Prior to her passing she had the foresight to become a participant in the Surrey Fire Department audio history program with the Surrey Archives. Her words are available to hear at the City Archives in the Fire Department Collection. During the discussion on the audiotape interview Jean explained her reason for joining Surrey Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter. Her words are: "I became a firefighter in 1960 very innocently, at the time they were giving free St. John's First Aid courses at the fire hall . . . Wally Snook who was the Chief at the time, asked me if I would like to be a fire person. I said, Why do I want to be a fire person they are all men? The years went by and when the paid men came into the fire hall, I was going to quit, but Fire Chief Al Cleaver persuaded me to remain until I reached my twenty–fifth year."
Jean Turley and Helen Beaton: Fire Hall 6. c 1964 Surrey's first female volunteer fire fighters.
From the mid-1980s, to the present (2007) there have been a number of female volunteer fire fighters in Surrey. Some have become career fire fighters, both in Surrey and with other fire departments, others have discovered that it is not their forte and have simply moved on.
At the present time there are only four female volunteer fire fighters on Surrey Fire Department, they are: Kaylie Striebel, Fire Hall 4; Susan Esau, Fire Hall 6; Mary-Elizabeth Fieldhaus, Fire Hall 7; and Gail Plain, Fire Hall 14.
One major benefit of being a volunteer fire fighter, female or male is that it is a good pre-occupation to ascertain if one really does have a desire to become a career fire fighter.
With the experience of twenty years as a Chief Officer working in administration, I feel confident in writing that the women of the Office Support staff are the most important female employees to the operational life blood within Surrey Fire Department (SFD).
These ladies can easily be referred to as the mettle that holds Surrey Fire Department together. They are involved in every aspect of fire service operations; purchasing, maintenance, payroll, fire hall design, specifications and tenders, emergency preparedness, fire reports, ad infinitum. There are no functions or operations that the women of the Office Support staff are not involved in to some degree.
Virginia MacDonald, year 2006: 22 years after retiring as Surrey Fire Department's first Secretary.
The first fire department secretary was Virginia MacDonald. Prior to becoming the Fire Chief's secretary Virginia was employed by the Surrey Municipal Property Department as a Bookkeeping Machine Operator, which entailed preparation of property tax statements. Before Virginia's transfer to the Fire Department, all secretarial responsibilities were allocated to the Municipal Manager's personal secretary, Sheila Sparrow (Calloughan), on an as needed basis.
The 1912 Municipal Hall, 17671 56 Ave. The new Municipal Hall, 14542 10 Hwy.
The first Fire Chief's Office was located in the Old Municipal Hall. This was Surrey's first Municipal Hall built in 1912. Today it has been restored and is used as the City of Surrey Archives. When the new Municipal Hall opened in 1963, the Fire Chief's Office/Civil Defence Office and Radio Room were relocated at the new hall in the south–east corner of the basement, in a bomb proof facility, (bomb proofing was a requirement nurtured because of the Cold War between the Democratic and Communist regimes). In 1972 the Fire Chief's Office and Radio Room moved to Fire Hall 10 and in 1976/7 it moved again to the newly constructed Fire Hall 1.
In 1964 the secretarial position for the fire department was posted, Virginia applied and was the successful candidate. At that time the fire department secretary also had responsibility of doing the paper work for Civil Defense (Emergency Program), for this additional responsibility Virginia received $25 per month added to her $165 per month wages, the secretaries wages were also supplemented by a one dollar amount for every fire report submitted to the Provincial Fire Marshall Office, (Fire Commissioner).
In 1972 the Fire Chief's Office moved from the Municipal Hall to Fire Hall 10, Virginia transferred as well. (Virginia's most vivid memory while working with the fire department was when she transferred to Fire Hall 10 and the firemen were somewhat distant about accepting her as an employee of the fire department). Virginia was a member of CUPE 402, even though she worked for the fire department and away from the Municipal Hall, CUPE would not grant her a release to become a member of SFFA Local 1271. This became a handicap for the fire department when CUPE went on strike and the union would not grant her a work permit, in fact during one strike by CUPE, pickets arrived to cordon off Fire Hall 1, but it was short lived when the Municipal Manager arrived on scene to negotiate removal of the pickets.
When the Fire Chief's Office moved to Fire Hall 1 in 1976/77, Virginia moved as well, she remained the only fire department office support person well into 1976, at which time Adele DiLorenzo began working part time at the fire department administration office at Fire Hall 1.
Adele DiLorenzo;, SFD second Secretary, 1976. Adele was born and raised in Vancouver, her father was a police officer, and therefore she was very familiar with the function of Para–military organizations, which greatly assisted her understanding of fire service protocol. She began her career with the Municipality of Burnaby in 1965 working as a Work Study Secretary, creating job descriptions, etc., that branch amalgamated with the Burnaby Human Relations (HR) and Adele transferred to the Reeve/Managers office and later to the Burnaby RCMP office until 1970 when she took maternity leave, returning in 1974 to Burnaby HR part time.
In 1975 Adele began working with Surrey in HR on a part time basis and in 1976 began working one day a week with the SFD, and then slowly she increased her work week one day at a time until in March 1984 when she was working five days a week. Adele probably had more nicknames than any other employee on SFD, starting with Wednesday, because that was the only day of the week she worked to begin with, and then she was later known as Red, A.D, Dragon Lady, Chief, Boss, and finally Barracuda.
In March 1984, Virginia retired and Adele became the Fire Chief's Secretary, in 1986 she was promoted to Administrative Assistant to the Fire Chief. She retired October 31, 2001.
The current (2007) Office Support Staff: L to R: Dawn, Karen, Charlene, Julie, Iris, Lorraine and Jocelyne.
Charlene Purdy began employment with SFD on April 2, 1984. Charlie as she is affectionately called was born in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, where she received her schooling. Her first venture into the work world was at Charlotte County Hospital in St. Stephen, holding the position of Medical Records Clerk. Charlie moved to Windsor, Ontario, where she again was employed as a Medical Records Clerk at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Windsor. n 1967 Charlie moved to Surrey and was employed with the Municipality of Surrey as a Switchboard Operator/Clerk Typist with Permits and License. During 1970 she became a stay–at–home mother, until 1984 when she joined SFD. Charlie and husband Bob have lived in Langley since 1975, where they have raised a son and daughter. After twenty–two years on SFD, Charlie comments, Working for the fire department has been and continues to be a rewarding experience.
Jocelyne Colbert Joce, came to SFD on April 10, 1989 to work as an Administrative Professional, after spending seven years as a stay–at–home mom. Joce has worked her way to Supervisor of General Office Staff. She also has the responsibility of administrating the Surrey Emergency Program.
Prior to her child raising sabbatical Jocelyne was employed with Woodward's Drug and Cosmetic Department and for a time in the 1970s she worked at the University Endowment Lands Administration Office. In the early 1980s Jocelyne moved to Surrey and worked with a Surrey construction company as an Accounts Payable Clerk.
Jocelyne was raised in Vancouver, receiving her secondary education at John Oliver High School and the Vancouver Technical Institute. Joce and husband Steve live in the east Guildford/Tynehead district. They have four children; three sons and one daughter. Steve is a descendent of one of Surrey's very early settlers, the McLelland family that settled adjacent the Bose farm in the east Sullivan area.
Karen Olver was born in Montreal and came to British Columbia in 1957, living in Richmond and Vancouver. She received her secondary education at Steveston Secondary in Richmond. She worked for B. C. Telephone (Telus) and the Royal Bank of Canada prior to SFD. From 1980 to 1990 Karen was a stay-at-home mother.
On June 6, 1990 Karen became a member of our fire department, working as an Administrative Professional. She chose SFD for a career because, I wanted good job security and to be part of an organization serving a very important role in the community. Karen currently lives in White Rock and is the proud mom of three adult children, being one son and two daughters.
Iris Van Houten was born in Penticton. She joined SFD on November 25, 1996 and currently works in the position of Assistant to the Fire Chief. She lives in Langley with her husband and two daughters.
Lorraine Wilson was born at the Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock and has lived her full life in Surrey. She is a graduate of Lord Tweedsmuir High School in Cloverdale. Lorraine has an extensive background in computer sciences. Prior to joining SFD she worked for the Bank of Montreal, operated her own business as a daycare provider and was employed by the City of Surrey from 1998 until she came to SFD on December 18, 2000. She is mother of one daughter and one son and recently became a grandmother.
Dawn Munro was born in Alberta and moved to Surrey in 1988. Dawn has a well rounded repertoire, having attended College, BCIT and has taken many post secondary computer courses. In 1991 she joined the City of Surrey working as a Mail Clerk, the RCMP Information Technology Department and City Finance Department, prior to transferring to the Fire Department as an Administrative Professional.
Dawn lives in Langley with her husband and two daughters. When asked about being a member of SFD, she said; "There is a degree of excitement being part of the organization and a real closeness of a group working harmoniously together."
Julie Grover was born in Etobicoke, Ontario, moved to Kitchener, Ontario in 1968 and Richmond, B. C. in 1970. She graduated from Matthew McNair Senior Secondary School in Richmond, attended BCIT and holds a Certificate in Human Resources. She moved to Surrey in 1987 and lives in our City with her husband George, they are proud parents of two adult children.
Prior to joining SFD she worked for the City of Surrey as a Finance Department Accounting Clerk. She began working as an Executive Assistant of Operations on October 18, 2004. Julie holds a Certificate in Human Resources Management.
Julie's comments about her job, are, I really enjoy my job and consider myself very fortunate to be employed as a member of Surrey Fire Department. When asked about extra curricular activities Julie explained that she likes to spend any spare time she can, keeping fit!
If there is anywhere within Surrey Fire Service that feminism has spawned an effective presence, it is the Radio Room or the Dispatch Centre. The female gender is particularly well adapted as dispatch operators, generally having good demeanor, clarity of phonics and verbal annunciation. Over the years since 1975 the radio room has been operational with close to a fifty percent gender split.
Bertha Poulin is pictured here immediately after losing her home and possessions in a fire before becoming an employee with SFD.
Bertha Poulin was the first female Radio Dispatch Operator for Surrey Fire Department (SFD) joining our ranks on July 24, 1975. As mentioned in the above photo Bertha and her family lost everything in a devastating fire (Oct. 1962) before starting work as a Radio Dispatch Operator with SFD. Bertha and her husband were the parents of seven children at the time of the fire.
Bertha coined the phrase, say again, as a dispatcher with SFD and was known to many by that moniker. She retired on October 21, 1986.
The following is a comment from Bertha Poulin's daughter Kathy in the year 2007.
Thanks so much for your work about women in the fire dept. I think it is timely now since there is too much media around negatives regarding some fire departments. This is very much needed to showcase some positives and not that all fire depts. have a negative history of discrimination against women. Though the history of my mom was not great, it did affect the changes that helped get us to where we are today. Also, the fact that Surrey showed tremendous courage to break away from the norm and hire a woman for this job. I am very proud of the fact that in an era when many women found it difficult to break away from the traditional jobs, that the folks in Surrey were progressive thinkers and gave me and my mom the chance to apply. I was 17 at the time and I remember going through the interview with Lorne Pearson and right at the end of the discussion, he asked me how old I was (you could back then) and then he told me I was too young to be licensed as a radio operator. I remember being very excited up to that moment as it appeared that I would have been hired. Disappointed, but not disillusioned, I went home and told mom to apply, which she did and you could say the rest is history. My point is, my age was the barrier not my gender. This to me was really significant because during that era, women were just starting to become part of the work force and there were many jobs that had traditional stereotypical gendered workers. I believe the Surrey Fire Dept. and specifically Lorne Pearson were the precursors to change and showed tremendous courage as influencers of the day.
Ethyl Elldridge pictured at radio dispatch Console in Fire hall 10. c. 1975. Ethyl Eldridge began employment as the second female Radio Dispatch Operator, one year and one month after Bertha, on August 29, 1975. Ethyl is the sister of the late Surrey firefighter Tom Heath. Ethyl retired on March 31, 1989 and currently lives at Loon Lake in the BC Cariboo.
Beginning with Bertha Poulin in 1975, here is a list of most female employees who have or presently work in the Surrey Fire Department Dispatch Centre.
At the end of August 2006, three female Dispatch Operators were in training, they were; Kristi Kozel(see above), Veronica Makowski and Alison Westman.
Perhaps one of the greatest incentives for female employees to develop and excel on Surrey Fire Department (SFD) transpired on April 18, 2006, when Deputy Fire Chief Karen Fry joined SFD as Manager of Communications. Karen came to Surrey from Nanaimo where she held the position of Captain, Pre–Incident Planning with Nanaimo Fire Rescue.
Karen was born in Port Alberni and educated in Nanaimo, graduating from Nanaimo District Senior Secondary with Honours, she attended Malaspina College for two years and has an expanded repertoire of education based on commerce, economics, sciences, APCO Communications Centre Supervision and various Management Courses, that have been put together to build an excellent curriculum vitae.
When asked why she chose SFD as a work site, Karen responded, Surrey is one of the first Fire Dispatch Centres to really take that next step and recognize the amount of work and commitment that it takes to have a successful dispatch centre. By creating a position such as the one I am in, Surrey is acknowledging the importance of people and the job they do in the dispatch centre everyday. For me personally, the opportunity couldn't be passed over. Surrey is well known for being a dynamic and progressive Fire Department and I knew immediately it's where I wanted to be. I knew that a position like this does not come along every day. I too share a vision of looking into the future to find and explore means to make a difference for the ultimate end users . . . Our community . . . Our employees . . . and for our fire service.
The following, profiles of nine randomly chosen female dispatch operators, shows an idyllic vision of the nature of the women who have chosen a career as Dispatch Operators with Surrey Fire Services.
Debbie McCullough was born in Vermilion, Alberta. Eight years later on a cold winter day she arrived in White Rock with her parents and has lived in Surrey/White Rock since then, with the exception of a short hiatus to Vancouver Island. She received her primary education at Ray Shepherd Elementary School and secondary education at Semiahmoo Senior Secondary.
Debbie married a member of the Coast Guard and shortly after they moved to Parksville, Vancouver Island, to establish a new Hovercraft Base. When the base became operational she began employment with the firm Telcom Communications, working with them for one and one half years. Deb as she is affectionately known, had an early desire to work on SFD. She had a long time friend working for Surrey Fire Services, who made a suggestion that she should apply for a position in the radio room. So began the submission of job applications at the young age of nineteen, the submission of applications was relentless about every six months or so, until nine years later Deb was hired as a part-time radio operator.
During these years of transitional conditioning she studied the phonetic alphabet obtaining her Radio Operators License. She had the added benefit of her husband being a volunteer fire fighter at Surrey Hall 13 and was able to monitor radio procedures, almost to the point of becoming obsessed by repeatedly practicing what she was hearing on the radio.
On July 24, 1988, Deb began employment full–time as the fifth career female radio operator on Surrey Fire Department. To Deb the fire department is family, after her divorce the members of her working family and in particular the other women of SFD helped her through difficult times, helping me stay sane!
During her off–duty time Deb goes to schools and teaches students proper procedures in calling 911, explaining how and what to say to emergency operators, not to be afraid of calling and then makes them Pinky Swear not to ever call 9–1–1 unless it is an emergency.
Karen Cook was born in New Westminster, raised and educated in North Delta, Karen moved to Surrey when she was hired onto the Fire Department. She has a well-rounded educational development consisting of a Complaint Taker Dispatch Certificate; CPIC Course Certificate; MFAP Certificate; Training Officer 1 & 2; Orbacom/CAD Certificate and a FDM Training Certificate.
Prior to joining SFD Karen worked as a CP Rail Freight Claims Stenographer and served as a full time Complaint Taker/Part Time Dispatch Operator with New Westminster Police Department. Karen participated for seven and one half years in the New Westminster Police Department Summer Soccer School for children. She is married and has two daughters.
Arlene Pretty was born in Vancouver and moved to Langley in 1970 and to Surrey in 1979. She had a unique start with Surrey Fire Services, beginning her activities as a volunteer at Fire Hall 14, where the whole family was active with fire hall functions.
Arlene worked as a part–time Call taker/Dispatch Operator in 1976 with the Langley RCMP, working with the Provincial Court Service at the same time for three years, when she relinquished working to raise a family. During these child raising years she worked at various jobs in the legal/security industry. In 1979 she moved to Surrey.
Arlene has a well rounded post secondary educational development, primarily based on communications. She has Certification as a Training Officer from the JIBC, a Communication Supervisor Certification from APCO; ICS Certification and a basic Emergency Operations Certificate from both from the JIBC Emergency Program. She has also attained various Travel Agent/Consultant certifications, but claims, those don't apply here. She is somewhat humble in saying, I do not have any awards for merit, but do have some nice letters of commendation. When questioned why she chose her present career she replied, Most of my background is in emergency services and law. I enjoy working with people and dispatching seemed to be my calling. I had an interest in joining the military or becoming an RCMP member when I was in my teens, but those interests were squashed after a time working with the RCMP. I chose the Fire Service over RCMP because I wanted to be working in a field that I felt I could help people without the abuse that RCMP staff so often receives from the public. In 2002 Arlene moved back to Langley where she and her husband, retired Chief Ed Pretty are living in a quiet rural setting with their Harley Davidson, and she proudly says she is the mother of five children, a biological daughter and son and three step sons.
Vera Hellstrom was born and raised in New Westminster, graduating from New Westminster Senior Secondary School. She moved to Surrey in 1977. Prior to joining SFD Vera was employed with New Westminster Nissan as a Sales Secretary and with Remax as a Receptionist. She applied for work at Surrey Municipal Hall and was later called and asked if she would be interested in a part-time position as a Radio Operator. Vera quickly thought it over and accepted the opportunity, working two years part time before becoming a Full Time Dispatch Operator on July 12, 1990.
Vera is married to a City of Delta Fire fighter and they currently live in Surrey. They are the proud parents of two children, a son and a daughter, as well as two grandsons.
Angela Didoshak was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, receiving all her education there. After graduating Angie became an employee in the newspaper industry, first as an employee with the Winnipeg Tribune in Sales, then with the Winnipeg Free Press as the Personnel Manager's Secretary. Angie was then married and her husband was transferred to Edmonton and two years later he was transferred again, this time to Vancouver.
Prior to joining SFD Angie worked with her good friend Vera Hellstrom at New Westminster Nissan as a Sales Secretary. Vera called her one day to find out if she would be interested in being a Radio Dispatch Operator with SFD, the next day Angie had an interview for the position and the following day she was hired. Angie and her husband live in Coquitlam and are the proud parents of a daughter and two sons. When questioned about working at SFD she said, "I quite enjoy the work and have never looked back!"
Michie Vidal (Zadorozny) and her son Nick Hryb, October 2005. Michie joined the SFD Team part time in 1990 on July 6, 1996 she moved to fulltime. In addition to being a professional Radio Dispatch Operator Michie has special notoriety which is explained in the following exerted from the IAFF web page.
The initiation of eight fire fighters into SFD was unique to say the least. Surrey veteran Dispatch Operator Michie Zadorozny (now Vidal) was present to see her son Nick Hryb, follow in her footsteps by becoming a Surrey Fire Fighter. "I am a very proud member of the IAFF, and even prouder mother, seeing my son fulfill his dream to become a fire fighter", said Michie, Fathers, sons, daughters and mothers are all becoming members of the fire service. It is a sign of the growing diversity that represents the fire service today.
Jennie–Lee Davis, Jen, was born in Mission, B.C. but has lived most of her life in New Westminster, as a result of this, most of her schooling had been attained in the Royal City. While attending Lord Kelvin Elementary School Jen was voted by her peers to represent the school as a flower girl in the Royal City's May Queen Suite. She attended New Westminster Secondary School from which she graduated with a Canadian Daughter's League Bursary, she then attended three years of Kwantlen College, completing her studies with a Diploma in General Studies and Certification in 911 Public Safety Communications, Radio Systems and CAD software such as C.P.I.C.; C.I.I.D.S.; G.E.A.C.; CAD; Orbacom and F.D.M. CAD Systems.
Jen joined SFD as a Part time Operator on June 21, 1994, while at the same time working part time as an RCMP Dispatcher with Burnaby Detachment, until September 5, 1996, when she accepted a full time position as a Surrey Fire Services Dispatcher. When questioned on what attracted her to work with Surrey Fire Services, she stated: "What attracted me to work with the fire department is of course, like many people, I have a desire to help people." The Fire Department was an exciting place for me to start doing that. I also enjoy working as a team and independently with all the different personalities. It is honest, challenging work and everyday is a different day, even though we are primarily doing the same thing by communicating information and sending resources.
Sandra Gesi was born in Surrey, but she has lived all he life in Langley. She worked for the Abbotsford Police Department and with the Langley Township as a Fire Department Dispatcher. On July 2, 1996, Sandra began working part time as a Dispatch Operator for Surrey Fire Services and on June 24, 1998 moved into a full time position. Sandra is married and the proud mother of one son. Her choice of being a Radio Dispatcher was because of her desire, to help make a difference without going into a burning building.
Shannon Harris was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and moved to B.C. when she was two years old. Shannon grew up in Vancouver, Port Coquitlam and Burnaby, before moving to Surrey in 1986. Prior to joining SFD, Shannon was employed as an Office Manager for a telecommunications company and also was employed for sometime as a Secretary with an interior design company. During her part time years with SFD she also worked for the RCMP as a Call–taker. She and her husband own a stainless steel fabrication company and they have three children, two girls and one boy.
Shannon's post secondary education included attendance at Pacific Vocational Institute and BCIT where she attained degrees in Computer Programming and Accounting. She has also acquired her FS II through the JIBC.
During her spare time Shannon is a member of Sweet Adelines International, a world wide singing organization for women. Her barbershop quartet, Brava won an International competition in 2004, becoming the first Canadian quartet to achieve this honour.
She began part time as a Dispatch Operator with Surrey Fire Services on May 1, 2000 and moved to full time on October 29, 2004. Shannon has a brother who recently retired as a Division Chief on the City of Vancouver Fire Department.
As noted in the Historical Overview the first female Fire Fighters in Surrey were hired September 14, 1992. Since that day of significant change, another four female fire fighters have been hired on staff of Surrey Fire Services. These fire fighters in order of hiring date are:
A good perspective to the W-5s of today's young women becoming professional fire fighters can be portrayed by looking at the most recent female fire fighter being hired onto Surrey Fire Department (SFD) as a professional interior fire fighter.
Theresa M. M. Snow's developmental path led directly to the attainment of her desired initiative within the fire service. Theresa was born in Calgary, Alberta and moved to Vancouver at a very young age. She acquired her education in Vancouver, graduating from Kitsilano Secondary in 1996. During her post secondary education Theresa attended Langara and Capilano Colleges partaking in various general studies. She then acquired her Business Administration at BCIT and Fire Fighter 1 & 2 at JIBC.
In the work world Theresa was a landscaper with Maplewood Landscaping. She was also active as an Operations Technician with the JIBC and employed as a Forestry Exterior Fire Fighter with the BC Ministry of Forests.
In February 2002 Theresa moved to Surrey and enrolled as a Volunteer Fire Fighter at Hall 4 for one year. On March 17, 2003 she was successful in becoming a professional Fire Fighter with Surrey Fire Services. When asked why she became a Fire Fighter, her response was: "Because I like helping people, the work schedule and the pay and benefits are great. I love coming to work."
Surprisingly only two women have worked full time in Fire Prevention and Public Education Branches, not including the office support ladies. The first, Sue Spurgeon, was a Surrey Municipal By-Law Officer, who transferred from Surrey's Municipal Inspection Department to Surrey Fire Services as an Inspector on September 16, 1991. She remained with Surrey Fire Services until September 18, 1992, when she left for another posting on the Sunshine Coast as a By–Law Officer with the town of Sechelt.
Lieutenant Michelle Jackson (Abbotsford Fire Rescue). Michelle originally joined Surrey Fire Services as a part time Dispatch Operator in 1993, on August 1, 1993, Michelle became a full time Public Educator on SFD. She was hired to replace Kent Jones when he was promoted to the rank of Captain in the Public Education Branch.
When Kent Jones retired on September 20, 2003, Michelle was transferred to the Fire Prevention Branch as a Public Educator/Fire Inspector, until January 31, 2004, when she transferred to the Abbotsford Fire Services as a Public Educator. Michelle, lives in Langley with her husband Greg, who is a Vancouver City Police Officer and a paid-on-call volunteer fire fighter in the City of Delta. They are the proud parents of two children, a son and a daughter.
Looking at the women of the Surrey Professional Fire Fighters Pioneer Association indicates we have gone full circle. Three of the Surrey Fire Department female employees are members of the Pioneers, they are; Virginia MacDonald, Ethyl Eldridge and Adele Di Lorenzo, also the first Honourary Member of the Pioneers is Jacqueline O'Donnell, City of Surrey Museum Director. The Pioneers host some of the most important female participants in the history of Surrey Fire Department. These are known as The Ladies of the Pioneers, being the spouses and partners of many male members retired from Surrey Fire Services. These Ladies have staunchly served most of their lifetimes supporting their loved ones, serving their needs, encouraging their commitments, sharing the highs and lows and generally being supportive in the growth and development of Surrey Fire Department.
To all the Ladies of Surrey Fire Department, past, present and future, we salute your graciousness, devotion and contributions to building a better Surrey Fire Department.
This compendium of words into an historical overview of women in the Surrey Fire Service is a result of many contributors, mostly women. Above all and foremost, recognition must go to my wife Irene, whom has forever been a veritable sounding–board to my many escapades bridging reality and Shangri–la.
I should like to thank Virginia MacDonald, the first woman on Surrey Fire Department with whom I had the pleasure of working alongside on a day–to–day basis. As well I would like to thank Caroline Haining of Crescent Beach Ocean Park Volunteer Fire Department, (Surrey Hall 12). As well the many women of today's Surrey Fire Service; Office Staff, Dispatch Operators, female Career Fire fighter Theresa Snow, female Volunteer Members; a list of names too numerous to mention here, but noted in the booklet.
I would also like to thank the proof readers who assisted in the finalization of this project; Honourary Surrey Pioneer Fire Fighter Jacqueline O'Donnell, Radio Dispatch Operator Debbie McCullough, and Administrative Professional Jocelyne Colbert.
Others that must be included in my thanks are: The Surrey Professional Fire Fighters Pioneer Association, which serves as an inspiration and valuable source of information regarding the history of Surrey Fire Department; the City of Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts; the City of Surrey Archives; Special acknowledgement and appreciation is extended to Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis, for his cooperation and encouragement. – L.M. Pearson – 2007.