ACT News

Five-fold increase in female applications to be firefighters following campaign

A five-fold increase in the number of women applying to become firefighters in the ACT has been credited on a massive recruitment drive and marketing campaign to address the service's gender imbalance.

About one in five applicants for ACT Fire and Rescue's 2016 recruit college were women accounting for 144 of the 802 applications received compared to the last recruitment process in 2012 when just 26 of the 395 applicants were women.

Anica Hesse was one of the 144 women hoping for a career change after meeting the cut off in the beep test in the ACT ...
Anica Hesse was one of the 144 women hoping for a career change after meeting the cut off in the beep test in the ACT Fire and Rescue recruitment process. Photo: Jay Cronan

Currently only 6 per cent of the ACT's firefighters are women. Across the entire ACT Emergency Services Agency, women make up 30 per cent of the ranks.

Gym receptionist and personal trainer Anica Hesse was one of the 144 women hoping for a career change.

Two of the 144 women who have applied for ACT Fire and Rescue line up to attempt the beep test.
Two of the 144 women who have applied for ACT Fire and Rescue line up to attempt the beep test. Photo: Jay Cronan

On Tuesday she was among 637 recruits who had made it through the first cull to undergo the beep test as part of the second phase.

She "just made" the cutoff level of 9.6.

"It's tough, theres a lot of girls who want to do it," she said.

"It's always been a male-orientated job, but I used to be a chef and it was the same.

Anica Hesse completes a the Fire Departments Beep test requirements.
Anica Hesse completes a the Fire Departments Beep test requirements. 

"I think it will be good to get more females in to make it even.

"It's an amazing job to do, helping people, going in and not knowing what to expect but going home seven-days and thinking 'I rescued someone today'."

Last year, the ACT Government pledged to reserve eight of the 16 places in this year's recruit college for women who meet the selection criteria.

Mrs Hesse said the quota was an added incentive to join and she was surprised more women hadn't applied.

"The ACT fire brigade have done a lot to give it a push, but maybe it's not for everyone," she said.

"A mate of mine is a firefighter and he brought it up one day… I was hesitant to start with but my husband said 'why don't you look into it'."

The agency ran recruitment workshops in Canberra and regional centres for about 300 people as part of a massive marketing campaign to pitch the benefits of what ACT Fire and Rescue chief officer Mark Brown said was an overlooked career for many women.

ACT Fire and Rescue commander Richard Maloney said the campaign had "definitely worked" and there were advantages to improving the balance of all aspects of the service including gender.

"There's been no change to the [recruitment] process... or standards," he said.

"Out of this process we are a hopeful of a 50/50 gender balance in the first recruit college in June this year... also we'll be merit listing suitable applicants to have, if possible, a second college."

Mr Maloney said the boost in overall applicant numbers, including a two-fold increase in the number of men, may be down to the current job market in the ACT and the extra marketing.

Retained part-time firefighter with the NSW service Jackson Cannon, one of the male recruits to pass the beep test, said he was "all for" a better gender balance.

"As long as everyone can do the job then why shouldn't they?" he said.

Mr Maloney said typically about 5 to 10 per cent of candidates were eliminated by the beep test and the ones that passed would go on to do four hours of public service-style aptitude testing.

Successful applicants will receive their offers on May 16.

- with Katie Burgess