Maddie Skubel is one of just six female volunteers in the Niagara-on-the-Lake fire department.
At 22, she’s not the youngest volunteer, but she is the youngest female, she believes.
Although she was a little intimidated when she first began her training, she quickly realized there was no need to be. Her gender was never an issue — the other firefighters were welcoming from the start, and never treated her any differently than other volunteers, she says.
The certified paramedic, working as a health care technician, decided to apply to become a firefighter thinking it would be a good way to put her training to work in another setting.
She learned about the paramedic component of being a firefighter as part of her course, and realized it would be “a really good experience,” she says. “Firefighters go to medical calls, and my paramedic training would help in those situations.”
She also has a cousin in the department who encouraged her to give it a try, and Skubel says she’s glad she did.
She began her training more than a year ago, but around the time she was finished, she had shoulder surgery. A St. Davids resident, she is a member of that station, but couldn’t go on any calls for a couple of months.
“Right from the first time I walked into the station, the guys welcomed me. They were so nice — they helped me when I needed help, and answered all my questions.”
During her training and the time she has been with the station, she has learned many skills that can be used in everyday life — skills she would never have imagined mastering, such as the use of so many tools, she says.
As a female, she was a little worried about the strength requirements when she signed up, but she found out soon enough she needn’t have been — she learned technique can make up for strength.
The hands-on training made her realize she could do whatever she has to do — and if she can’t, “you’re never alone. There is always someone to help you if you need help. You’re part of a team, and that gives you confidence.”
She was also anxious about the prospect of entering a burning building — recruits travel to a burn tower in Grimsby, where they fight a controlled fire.
“It’s pretty stressful, but you get through it and you realize you will always be under stress in this job,” says Skubel.
“But you learn to think critically under stress. It’s not like you’re getting thrown in; you receive a lot of training to prepare for all you’ll have to do. They never make you do something you don’t know how to do.”
Recruits receive 160 hours of training to ensure they are well-equipped for the job by the time they join their hall, and all firefighters continue to train weekly with their department.
While the camaraderie of the station makes for a comfortable work environment, Skubel says she also likes the diversity of the backgrounds of the other firefighters.
“They come from so many walks of life. They’re not just firefighters, they bring so much more to the job. Everyone has their individual skills and knowledge to contribute. That’s really cool to see.”
Skubel signed up as a volunteer recruit thinking her full-time career would be working as a paramedic, while giving back to her community as a part-time firefighter.
But she is enjoying the experience so much, she has changed her mind.
“I would like to become a full-time firefighter. I love that every call is different, and it’s such a great work environment. I love it. Every time I go to the station I have a great time. I also love the challenge.”
What would Skubel say to someone considering filling out an application?
“Go for it.”
She has found her short time with the station “life-changing,” she says.
“It’s really given me a different perspective. It’s made me realize how many people I don’t know, even in St. Davids, my community. People I didn’t know before, I’ve discovered are my neighbours.”
The firefighters’ association, the fundraising and social events they organize, all come along with the job, and provide more opportunities to meet people in the community, says Skubel.
She would love to see more females in the department, but anyone who is thinking of giving it a try, should, she says.
“There are so many reasons why I love it.”
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can find more information and an application at www.notl.com.
The deadline to submit an application is April 30. Information sessions will be held Wednesday, April 17, at 7 p.m. at the Glendale station on Townline Road, and Thursday, April 25, at 7 p.m. at the Old Town station on Anderson Lane. The information sessions are for interested potential volunteers and their families to learn about the application process and the time required in the role of a firefighter.