I recently met an amazing woman named Carol Henke, who is the spokesperson for the Calgary Fire Department. What’s most incredible is the path she took to get there. She didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a fire fighter. She wanted to be an interior designer, went to university and graduated with a psychology major and geography minor, and then went back to school to get her nursing degree. After moving to Calgary, she reconnected with an old friend who had joined the fire department. He said she should really consider applying for the job. That led her to the fire department and a great career with the CFD as a fire fighter, fire inspector, community safety officer and now the department spokesperson. Here’s what she had to say about her experiences:
Girlville: Why did you pursue a career with the fire department?
Carol Henke: I wasn’t feeling totally fulfilled with my nursing job. I felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I thought about different things but came back to the fire department fitting the bill – it is physically active, you help people, no two days are the same, and it’s a very dynamic and unpredictable job.
GV: What the hardest part of the job?
CH: As a fire fighter you see things that are traumatic, that make you angry and frustrated. The calls where you know that this shouldn’t have happened, the terrible results of people’s bad choices, those are tough. But we get to help people and make things better for them when they are experiencing a horrendous tragedy.
GV: What’s the best part of the job?
CH: We respond to so many different calls. Fires are a small percentage of what we attend. Half of our calls are for serious medical issues. We have specialty teams or you can become a training officer, community safety officer, health and safety officer or even a fire investigator. So there are a lot of various areas to branch into.
GV: Would you recommend the job?
CH: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful, rewarding career. There are difficult moments but it’s a great opportunity. I’d love to see more young women join the department.
GV: Are there many female fire fighters?
CH: We’ve got less than 40 females on the department. There was another woman in my recruit class—we became the seventh and eighth female fire fighters in CFD history. But how do you get people interested if they don’t see themselves reflected in that profession? I feel like I’m making females in uniform more visible now as the spokesperson for the fire department. I’m going to fire scenes, I’m on the news, I’m interviewed about whatever is going on in the fire department.
GV: Are there a lot of opportunities?
CH: Through retirements, promotions and growth, we will be hiring again. We currently have over 250 fire fighters on duty at any one time at 39 stations throughout the city, many with specialized training. Calgary firefighters come from many different backgrounds with diverse skill sets. My only regret is that I didn’t apply sooner.
Thanks, Carol! It’s great to hear a female perspective on a profession that’s traditionally been dominated by men. Firefighting is definitely a career I’ll consider as I get older!