Girl Power at Sasamat Fire Department


Melissa Cooke, at 19, the the youngest, is studying at the Justice Institute of BC to become a city police officer. She grew up around the Anmore fire hall as her father, Bill, has been a volunteer firefighter for 27 years.

“I went to car washes and birthday parties here,” she said. “It’s like my second home.”

Miranda Venos, 21, a graduate of Capilano University’s Outdoor Recreation Management Diploma Program who wants a career with the RCMP, was inspired by the work of the fire crews she has seen up close. When she was a child, firefighters came to her family home — two doors from the Anmore hall — to help her grandfather, who was having a heart attack.

“For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to do this job,” Venos said.

And Sarah Coombs, 21, a student in Douglas College’s environmental sciences program, has been considering firefighting for some time and has an uncle who’s a firefighter in Surrey.

Their basic training started last September and, in January, they advanced to the probationary stage. Should they pass their exams later this year, they will become fully certified firefighters as of Jan. 1, 2017, said Fire Chief Jay Sharpe.

But they won’t be the only women who suit up for the volunteer department: Judy Evans, 72, has been with Sasamat for 35 years, responding from the Belcarra firehall.

Still, they’re not worried about gender.

“I think that girls should be able to do whatever they want to do,” Venos said. “We’re just as tough as the guys. And we want more girls to join us.”

Sharpe said he’ll take his best recruits based on merit. “For us, it makes no difference if they’re a man or woman,” he said with a shrug.

From his point of view, he’s just happy the young women have lowered the department’s average age of 51.

Sharpe is also pleased with the amount of energy the trio have brought to the job — although, at this time, they are only allowed to assist at call-outs (half of Sasamat’s 100 responses a year involve medical emergencies).

“Probation means we give them a year to see if they fit into the culture,” Sharpe said. “So far, they’re doing pretty good.

“I think they bring an enthusiasm that is contagious,” he added. “A lot of the older guys have told me, ‘It’s nice to see that here.'”

Coquitlam firefighter Kim Saulnier of the Camp Ignite Society, a group that promotes firefighting careers to girls, said she’s pleased the trio has come aboard.

“It is very encouraging to see not only one but three new female firefighter recruits choose to serve their community and become role models for other women who might be interested in firefighting,” Saulnier told The Tri-City News. “With these new roster additions, Sasamat Volunteer Fire Department, which has up to 45 volunteers, exceeds the national average of approximately 3%.”

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