Karen Arthur, Captain of the Tomki RFS brigade, would like to see more women join up as volunteers.
Karen Arthur, Captain of the Tomki RFS brigade, would like to see more women join up as volunteers. Cathryn McLauchlan

Fire fighting is no longer a man's domain

KAREN Arthur is something of a rarity in the Rural Fire Service's Northern Rivers zone.

She is the only female captain and one of the 21% of women that make up zone members, but Mrs Arthur said it hasn't had any negative impact on her brigade.

"It's really good in a way," Mrs Arthur said, "because there are times the guys offer to do something for you, like if it's heavy lifting, and I'll just say 'yep, knock yourself out'."

She recalled the changes of attitude since signing up as a firefighter in 1997, and since becoming captain about four years ago.

"Sometimes I would rock up somewhere and if I had the guys in the truck, they (other emergency services) would tell the guys what's going on, and it's sort of like, 'hello?!'," she said.

"But they recognise me around here now so I don't get that as much.

"I think that perception is almost gone, but not quite."

As captain of the Tomki brigade, located on Summerland Way south of Casino, it's Mrs Arthur's job to ensure everything is running smoothly.

She started as a volunteer firefighter and worked her way up from there.

"I started with a basic firefighting course, then I became treasurer (and) secretary. I had some time off, came back and started plotting through the courses," she said.

Acknowledging that fighting fires wasn't for everyone, Mrs Arthur said there was a lot of other positions men and women could hold.

RFS superintendent Michael Brett said some of those roles included communications, logistics, catering, aviation and administrative positions.

"There's a role for everyone in the RFS," he said.

"We are putting a lot of work into gender balance. We want to encourage more women to join."

The Tomki brigade has four active women members out of the 12 volunteers. Mrs Arthur's 17-year-old daughter is one of the crew.

The brigade has recently been upgraded with a six-seater fire truck - complete with a infrared camera that sees through fog and smoke.



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