Alice Cullingford – Acting Captain, Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services
I’m Alice Cullingford, Acting Captain with Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services, Doctoral Student in Business Administration, and mother of two young children. Needless to say my life can be extremely chaotic. Firefighting, in some strange way, has actually been a calming force because it pushes me to slow down and be in the moment during emergency situations.
I was never a child who grew up wishing to be a firefighter. My father was a research biologist and my mother was in sales and they were just happy I found something that I really wanted to do. There was no real epiphany. I just decided one day that I wanted to join the fire service and spent a year studying and training. I knew the physicality of the job and the camaraderie with the crews would suit my personality. I never realized that being female as well as being a firefighter was a big deal until people made it a big deal. To be frank, I feel uncomfortable when people differentiate me because of my gender in this profession. When I applied for this job, I applied to become a firefighter. Being female was, and still is, a moot point to me. I just wanted to work in emergency services and serve my community.
It has been interesting that after 17 years on the job I am still considered an anomaly… and I find this frustrating because I would like to think that I am known for my industry accomplishments as opposed to the sex I was born with. Many fire departments have diversity hiring practices but this can be problematic if the true meaning of diversity is not fully understood. Diversity is about diversity of thought and not delineated by the colour of one’s skin or gender identity. Yes, fire departments need diversity but they need to be careful because in trying to attract a certain demographic, they may inadvertently polarize the workforce or devalue the very people they are trying to hire. It’s actually about integration and moving away from the discourse of female firefighting and instead seeking ways to improve the industry of firefighting as a whole.