Today is International Women's Day, a day in which we celebrate women and their many achievements, as well as reflect on the women who are role models in our communities. So, today we honour women who have donned the first response uniforms and answered the call to help those in the direst moments.
Rickey-Lee DeVries, Airdrie firefighter & Primary Care Paramedic
Although DeVries began her career with Airdrie's Fire Department several months ago (October 2021), residents may recognize her as one of the four firefighters who braved the arctic temperatures in late February as part of the department's rooftop campout to raise awareness and money for muscular dystrophy.
Growing up, DeVries was an avid ringette player, a sport she still participates in today and this led her to pursue a career that was all about being a part of a team.
"From a sports aspect, it's very similar. You train for a sport, you practice, you have a coach, and you have a common goal as a team. I see that a lot in firefighting," she said. "We go to work; we train to keep our skills up. We have a captain, so we have direction, and we're working together as a team to try and accomplish certain tasks."
Although approximately 5 per cent of all firefighters are females in departments across Canada, DeVries said she has always left her gender out of all things career-related.
"I have this goal: I want to be a firefighter and I knew the steps that it took to get there. So, I asked myself, 'how can I be at my 110 per cent to get where I want to be? I always tried to focus on myself and how can I be an equally contributing team member."
When asked what her advice for young girls and women would be, DeVries said that perseverance is at the heart of achieving one's dreams.
"If you're pursuing that dream: do not give up. You might not be successful the first time, the second time, the third time, or the fourth time... And that's okay," she said. "I feel like society labels failures. I see it as an opportunity to grow and learn and it will eventually push you toward your success."
Jacqueline Montoya, Primary Care Paramedic
Having worn a paramedic's uniform for 13 years, Airdronian Jacqueline Montoya, who also goes by 'Jackie' and works out of Didsbury said that her foray into the first response branch came by way of hunkering down and helping her husband, who is a Calgary firefighter, study during his primary care paramedic training.
"I think what you'll find [that] most paramedics say that we just want to help," she said.
As she looks back on her 13 years of work, Montoya is reminded of a particular incident that is engrained in her memory. She had responded to a cardiac arrest of an 80-some-year-old man at his own granddaughter's wedding.
"What a lot of people don't know about first responders is that we arrive, we treat people, we bring them to the hospital and we don't actually often find out the outcome of that patient."
Three months after she had responded to the call, she met the man once again.
"I actually saw this gentleman in the hospital and he was alert and conscious. I was actually able to shake his hand and that was a huge moment for me," she said.
Currently, the gender split in the paramedical industry in Alberta is roughly 50/50 as of today, Montoya did note that there has been a shift since she started working.
"When I first started in EMS, I can honestly say that the majority of my co-workers were male, but [today] it makes me really proud to say that there are hundreds of female paramedics across this province that put on this uniform," she said.
But what of the strong female role model in her life? Montoya said her mother is her hero.
"She was diagnosed with cancer when she was pregnant with me and was given the choice to either terminate the pregnancy and try to save her life or to follow through with the pregnancy, and then hope for a good outcome when I was born," Montoya said. "If she didn't make that decision, then I wouldn't be here today having this conversation with you."
Cst. Erika McGrattan, RCMP
Cst. McGrattan remembers the uniforms of the police officers vividly from when she was a child.
"I always had that feeling that I wanted to help. I tried going to university and a social worker, but it wasn't quite it for me. I went to university to become a teacher and again, it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do," she said. "I'm very much a people person and I really like to have the gratification of knowing that I can help."
While Cst. McGrattan is currently working out of Calgary as a recruiting officer, in a few weeks' time, the 15-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be making her way to the Airdrie detachment to work as a school resource officer.
According to statistics by the RCMP, in 2021 approximately 21.8 per cent of RCMP were female. This statistic is something the RCMP wants to change. Case in point, on Tuesday, March 6, both Cst. McGrattan and a member of the Canadian Armed Forces hosted a female-focused career presentation in Calgary.
"We're trying to get upwards of 30 per cent. I can speak for myself; before I joined, I didn't have the confidence and then through life experience, I got enough confidence in myself," she said. "And that's what I've always done. The biggest thing is just believing in yourself that you can do it even though it is male-dominated."
Sgt. Tanya Sampert, Canadian Armed Forces
Sgt. Tanya Sampert has worn the uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces for 29 years. She joined the army when she was 17 years old. Sgt. Sampert’s parents both served in the army and her son is now following in his mother's footsteps.
When she joined the army infantry in 1994, Sgt. Sampert agreed that that area of the military was very much dominated by men.
"I found that for the most part, as a female in the military, I haven't found it to be difficult," she said. "I find that most of my teammates consider me to be a teammate as well," she said.
Sgt. Sampert, a recruiter for the armed forces presented alongside Cst. McGrattan in Calgary on Tuesday. According to Statistics Canada, as of April 2022, 16 per cent of women make up the total regular force members in Canada's military. Although Sgt. Sampert said she would like to see more women in the army, she said that she doesn't believe the army is an 'old boys club'.
"I definitely don't feel that it is like this now and that's why I have served as long as I have."
The 2023 theme for International Women's Day is: embracing equity.
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