PATRICK TALU catches up with a group of young women training to be the country’s first female firefighters
TWENTY-three-year-old Jacqueline Lesley and 24-year-old Rachel Abaka are about to create
In two weeks time, Miss Lesley, of Eastern Highlands province, and Miss Abaka, of Central province, will become fully-fledged firefighers, a first in the 35-year history of the PNG Fire Service.
The two, nine other female colleagues and 17 young men, will graduate as commissioned fire fighting officers.
Both the female and male trainees were put through 11 weeks of extensive training including honing their standpipe and ladder skills, high angle rescue, rapelling and fire source prevention.
“The training was physically demanding but we have endured and are relieved that it will be over shortly,” said Miss Lesley.
“We are now well equipped to go out and put into action the skills we have learned,” she said.
Ms Abaka couldn’t agree more.
“I admire the job firemen do, about saving lives and property.
“I have always wondered why women were not employed as fire fighters.”
“We want to have an impact on upcoming recruits, to be role models.
“If women cannot take on men, this job is not for them,” she said.
When I visited the Gerehu Firefighters Training depot in Moresby Northwest last week for this story, the women trainees were in full swing with their skills training, dressed in thick, heavy jackets in the hot, burning sun which had forced most residents indoors or under the shades.
But the trainees, despite the obvious discomfort, concentrated on the task to hand, sprinting to a fire truck, unloading hoses and hooking them up to a fire hydrant.
Others strapped on oxygen tanks and climbed up a four-storey tower while their colleagues tied ropes to hoses and hoisted them up.
Chief Fire Officer Isaac Silas is equally excited about having women in the Fire Service.
“I hope it will inspire young women to believe that they can strive for higher things, jobs that only men are doing.”
Mr Silas admitted that it will take time for the male-dominated Fire Service to warm to their new female colleagues.
“The women trainees are treated equally as their male colleagues in training, assessment and other subjects of firefighting.
“Once they pass the training and are commissioned, they will be stationed at four of the fire brigades in the National Capital District where they were recruited from,” Mr Silas said.
“The next lot of females will be recruited as part of PNG Fires Services human resources requirement depending on the performance of this first batch.
“We have already identified potential female firefighters for next year’s recruitment from other centres and the door is still open for other aspiring young women who are up to the challenge to take up this tough and dangerous job,” Mr Silas said.
Chief Fire Service trainer Esau Maman said it was a challenge to train young women.
“They are too good and I was impressed with the way they applied themselves during training” said Mr Maman.
“They appeared more enthusiastic, even outclassed their male colleagues in some training areas – all the more proof that they will be competitive in the job.
“By looking at how they have been doing in all areas of skills training, there is a positive signal that they are daring to do the most dangerous job,” Mr Maman said.
He said it was a way forward to have gender balance in the Fire Service workforce.
“I look forward to training more aspiring young women who want to be firefighters.
The 11 young trainees will add weight to moves to stamp out the traditional belief that women are incapable of doing men’s jobs.
These young women are breaking down gender barriers to become their country’s first women firefighters.
The United Nations Development Programme says women and girls here are less likely to get paid jobs or go to school and more likely to be victims of violence and suffer from poor health.
It was only in recent times that PNG women were given a fair go to fully realise their abilities to compete with the male folk in any profession dominated by males.
This shift in roles and responsibilities from being simple housewives to scientists, engineers, pilots, soldiers, policemen and of course firefighters, amongst other male dominated jobs, is attributed to modern civilisation.
And that is being reflected in these young women taking up this toughest and dangerous job to set the precedent and inspire other young woman who aspire to be competitive in what was a men-only profession.
They will be the first women firefighters that Papua New Guinea should be proud of in two weeks time.
* For potential young women who are interested in joining PNF Fire Services, or want to get more information, you can write to Papua New Guinea Fire Service, P.O.Box 5390, BOROKO 111, NCD, Papua New Guinea. You can also call on 325 4581/325 4189 or Fax on 325 3087.
The minimum entry requirement is grade 12 with pass grades.