City fire department gets first female deputy chief
The Brantford Expositor

For the first time in the Brantford fire department’s 183-year history, a woman has become deputy fire chief.

It’s a job Anna Everett says she’s thrilled to have.

“I think it’s awesome. I hope I’m the right person and the right fit for this.”

But in a profession that remains an almost exclusively male domain – only three to four per cent of firefighters in Canada are women – Everett is a trailblazer. When she stepped into her new role earlier this week she became one of just a handful of deputy fire chiefs in Ontario.

Everett downplays her role as a history maker as she sits in her office at the main fire station on Clarence Street. It’s uncluttered but for some snapshots, and a collection of pug items given to her by friends in honour of her own ironically-named 45-pound pug, Peanut.

In her role, Everett will be supporting, mentoring and coaching fire department members in communications, fire prevention, and emergency management.

The 35-year-old who grew up in Burlington got her first full-time job in firefighting when she joined the Brantford department a little less than two years ago. But, in fact, she has been in the service of firefighting half her life.

In 2002, when she was just 18, she joined the Burlington volunteer firefighters. She was inspired by her older brother Dan Everett, who has just been promoted to acting platoon chief with the Burlington fire department.

“He’d talk about all the amazing new skills he was learning and even got to dress up as Sparky the Fire Prevention Dog,” she said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘That sounds amazing. I’d really like to be a firefighter, too.’”

Everett was the only woman among a dozen hopefuls invited to participate in the 2002 Burlington volunteer recruitment and one of nine to graduate.

She said she had no apprehension about jumping into the heavily male-dominated volunteer work.

“I had great leadership, training and coaching right out of the gate. My training officer at the time was Karen Roche, now deputy chief for the City of Burlington. She has been an incredible source of encouragement over my career as a firefighter and paramedic.”

While a volunteer firefighter – she served for 15 years moving up to the rank of lieutenant – Everett said she fell in love with the medical calls, how first responders, working together, “created calm from chaos at the drop of a hat.” That led her to a 10-year career as a paramedic with the City of Toronto and Halton Region.

But Everett said her first love remained firefighting. So, when she felt she’d taken her career as a paramedic as far as it could go, she attended a private fire academy and received other training, then started applying for firefighting jobs across the province.

It took four years to get hired by the Brantford department.

“It’s very competitive,” said Everett. “I was competing with people who were 10 years my senior.”

Brantford fire Chief Shane Caskanette said, last year, 400 and 450 people applied for three firefighter positions offered by the city.

“Gender is outside the scope of what we’re looking at,” said Caskanette. “We are simply looking for the best candidates who will be the best fit for our organization.”

Still, Caskanette acknowledged that the department must “do a better job at focusing our efforts” on attracting female and also visible minority candidates.

There are 16 women currently working at the Brantford fire department, including two in fire prevention, three in administration and eight in communications.

Of the 108 “on the floor” firefighters —  those responding to calls, just three are women.

Caskanette noted female-focused camps to train young women in firefighting skills have been created by fire departments in places, such as Ottawa and London, Ont.

As part of its recruitment plan, Brantford police service is holding a recruiting session just for women in May. In 2017, women accounted for about 21 per cent of all sworn officers in Canada.

While she’s never experienced challenges on the job related directly to her gender, Everett admits to being a bit of a novelty.

“Generally speaking, the public doesn’t see many female firefighters. So, when they see us at community events or at the scene they gush over us. I take great pride in representing our community, department, industry and being a positive leader for both women and men,” she said.

“It’s a great profession that requires someone respectful, kind, competent and worthy of the role. Those characteristics are housed in women.”

As she settles into her new role, Everett soon will do the same in a Brantford century home she is renovating with her partner, Thomas Keaney, a fire captain with the Burlington fire department. Her stepfather was also a first responder, having worked as a paramedic for 45 years.

She’s looking forward to the challenges and wants other women to consider careers in firefighting.

“I would absolutely encourage women to become firefighters,” said Everett.

“Diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce and brings us all opportunities to learn from others and grow.

“And driving the big red fire truck is pretty cool, too.”

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