Two years ago, if you would have asked Ava Glesby what she would be doing now, she would not have said graduating from a firefighting training program.
At the end of September, Glesby and fifteen other students became the first-ever graduating class of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS)’s Diversity and Equity Fire Training (DEFT) program at a ceremony at the Winnipeg Firefighters Museum. Glesby applied to the program last year.
“I had just finished my Kinesiology degree, and I was looking for the next step in my career when my mom sent me the program posting for DEFT,” said Glesby.
The WFPS launched DEFT in 2021 to reduce barriers facing prospective firefighters. Anyone who wants to become a firefighter in Winnipeg needs Firefighter I and II certification to apply.
The closest place to complete this training is at Brandon’s Manitoba Emergency Service College (MESC). It takes nine months, is full-time and in person, and costs about $30,000 for tuition and room and board.
“Firefighter training is intensive, and that’s important for the health and safety of our members and the residents we serve,” said Christian Schmidt, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief. “But some people may never have the chance to try because of systemic barriers like cost, scheduling, and family obligations.”
With the launch of this new program, Schmidt hopes to reduce systemic barriers for prospective firefighters and see more diverse candidates apply for firefighting jobs.
DEFT is open to applicants in equity groups including women, Indigenous (Metis, Inuit, and First Nations) people, newcomers, racialized people, people who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+, and people with a disability.
“Winnipeg is a diverse city,” said Schmidt.
Students accepted into the program receive the same training as students at MESC but DEFT students train at the WFPS training academy in Winnipeg on evenings and weekends. Using WFPS training tools and spaces when they're not being used to train frontline staff means tuition costs less.
Holding the classes on evenings and weekends allows students to train while working or caring for family, both of which can be barriers for potential firefighters. However, training after regular working hours is not easy.
“The program seems intense, but in a good way,” said Josee Pelletier, another DEFT graduate. “We learned so much in eleven months and we had to navigate COVID-19, winter weather, and our day jobs, but we all got along so well. It was easy to come to class. It was a lot, but in a good way."
Despite the challenges, Glesby said the class' spirit was her motivation.
“Even through all the ups and downs - the sweatiest nights and the hard nights - we always came together to laugh and support each other,” she said.
For Glesby, believing in herself was her biggest hurdle. Her message to anyone considering applying for the program is simple.
Pelletier had a similar experience.
“I honestly thought I might not be physically capable of doing the program, but I talked to my family and thought, ‘why can’t I do it?’” she said.
The next step for DEFT graduates will be to apply for a position with WFPS through the recruitment process. The 2022-23 DEFT application process is closed, but the next intake begins in August 2023.
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