Including Women in the Fire Service

A Strategy Toolkit for Fire Departments

About this toolkit


Women and minorities navigate a more challenging fire service organizational landscape. As a matter of equity, inclusion and equality, this toolkit aims to provide the framework in order to influence a positive fire service culture change.

According to the 2016 Canadian Census, women represented just over five percent of all firefighters and just under seven percent of senior firefighting leadership in Ontario in 2015. This needs to change – we must work towards more diversity and inclusion in the fire service. Together, we can help increase this number by removing barriers embedded in current practices, culture and initiatives in the workplace that women face in the fire service.

This Including Women in the Fire Service toolkit will help fire departments in Ontario identify and address barriers that prevent women from becoming firefighters and advancing in the fire service. It offers tools to fire leadership teams to help build equitable and inclusive practices in leadership, recruitment, hiring, retention and career advancement for women in the fire service.

One of my roles as a fire service leader is to create a stronger voice for the marginalized groups in the fire service, reduce negative stigma and evolve the fire service industry in a positive way. I am proud of the progress the fire service has already made, but there is more work to be done. Creating a diverse and inclusive culture in the fire service where women feel welcomed will strengthen the workplace community.

As leaders, we must commit to actions that make sustainable progress and create opportunities for all firefighters to reach their full potential. Through this toolkit, we can all work together to make a better workplace for all firefighters regardless of gender.

Deryn Rizzi
Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management
City of Mississauga


The face of firefighting in Canada is changing. More than ever before, women are considering careers in the fire service. While currently women make up approximately 4% of firefighters, their increasing numbers mean that we need to find ways to include them in the workplace, support their leadership, and more generally to build public safety services that reflect the vibrant diversity of the communities we serve. This toolkit seeks to support fire departments in these goals.

This toolkit is primarily based on the research conducted by McMaster University on behalf of Fire Service Women of Ontario which resulted in the document Insights from the Inside: A window into the experience of female firefighters in Ontario. The study is the first province-wide in-depth study of women firefighters based on both survey and qualitative interviews with active firefighters.

The study draws on data from 1364 online surveys and 26 in-depth face-to-face interviews with firefighters of all genders, leadership ranks and non-suppression fire service workers. The data includes topics such as recruitment, hiring, workplace policy and culture (such as uniforms and equipment, physical infrastructure, pregnancy policies), retention and promotion, harassment and violence, and health and safety. As such it is based on the real-life experiences of firefighters in Ontario and beyond. Beyond the study data, this toolkit also encompasses current best practices in research and recommendations from the fire service, primarily in Canada and the United States.

This research project and resulting toolkit was funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada, (WAGE) a department of Government Canada, which works to advance equality for women by focusing its efforts in areas such as increasing women's economic security and prosperity and encouraging women's leadership and democratic participation.

Fire Service Women Ontario seeks to inspire positive and proactive change, to encourage the development of a diverse workforce, to actively develop potential through networking and support, to recognize role models and mentors, and to foster supportive relationships among women in fire service. FSWO achieves these goals through the following initiatives: a yearly training symposium, mentoring opportunities, recognition awards, fire research support, public education campaigns, and now this toolkit.


Including Women in the Fire Service: A Strategy Toolkit for Fire Departments was created with the support, dedication, knowledge and expertise of the following team:

  • Louise Hine-Schmidt – Past President, FSWO
  • Pike Krpan – President, FSWO
  • Lydia Wilcox – Vice President, FSWO
  • Julie Petruzzellis – Director, FSWO
  • Debbie Higgins – Director, FSWO
  • Jim Andrews – Treasurer, FSWO
  • Tracey Shields – Director, FSWO
  • Cheryl Hunt – Director, FSWO
  • Sheri Fisher – Director, FSWO
  • Chelsea Dempsey – Director, FSWO
  • TJ Robbins – Director, FSWO
  • Audrey-Anne Robinson – Director, FSWO
  • Jean Cloutier – Student Director, FSWO
  • Susan Jones – Executive Director, FSWO
  • Allison Vickerd - former Director, FSWO
  • Vannetta Tustian - former Director, FSWO
  • Taylor Wardhaugh, former Director, FSWO
  • Jenn Gordon – former Student Director, FSWO
  • Deryn Rizzi – Fire Chief, Vaughan Fire and Rescue Services
  • Dr. Alice Cullingford- Captain, Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services
  • Theresa Wilcox Kelly, Editor
  • Karen Roche – Fire Chief, Burlington Fire
  • Gerry Pingitore – Past Fire Chief - Ottawa Fire Services
  • Ron King – Past President, Firefighters Association of Ontario
  • Rob Hyndman – Past President, Ontario Professional Firefighters Association
  • Ross Nichols – Past Fire Marshal and Chief of Emergency Management – Office of the
  • Fire Marshal and Emergency Management
  • Stephen Hernen – Past President, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs
  • Wayne Lewchuk – McMaster University
  • Suzanne Mills – McMaster University
  • Morgan Jaques – McMaster University
  • Michelle O’Hara – Executive Director, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC)
  • Sarah Turl – Project Coordinator, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs
  • Shelley Molica - Finance Officer, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs
  • Anna Camilleri – Red Dress Productions
  • Triston Whiston – Red Dress Productions

Thank you to all those who attended our Chiefs Roundtable in 2018 and to all the members of the fire service who participated in our research survey and interviews in 2018 & 2019.

Author’s Note

On behalf of Fire Service Women of Ontario and the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, I am honored to present Including Women in the Fire Service: A Strategy Toolkit for Fire Departments. This toolkit will help create a work environment that supports diversity and inclusion - not just for female firefighters, but also for all fire service workers who have proudly chosen this profession. Diversity and inclusion within the workplace throughout all levels of the organizational hierarchy helps realize the full human potential of work teams. Inclusive thinking includes being mindful of unconscious biases that can stunt the growth of workers and the organization itself. Moreover, diversity and inclusion is greater than the legal obligation to provide a safe working environment: it is, at a foundational level, about incorporation, acceptance, and belonging. I recognize that these topics can create strong and often emotional polarizing conversations. However, it is important to understand that promoting an honest and open discussion with difficult issues helps to move the dialogue forward. The potential strategies and mechanisms presented in this toolkit may not completely serve the needs of all fire departments or workplaces. They are intended to serve as options and guidelines to be considered by Fire departments when they are seeking and researching the best strategies and action planning that is most appropriate for their organization, firefighters, and business needs. It is my hope that fire service leaders embrace opportunities for growth and connect with the rich humanity all firefighters bring to the workplace. These are exciting times.

Dr. Alice Cullingford
Captain, Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services